Today, yesterday is everywhere. Insta-nostalgia — like the #2009vs2019 challenge or a Facebook quiz to find out what 90s' indie band you are — is hellbent on planting the past in your present.
Frankly, I don’t love having my memories repackaged as click bait. Then again, being skeptical and questioning conventionality is something our generation is known for.
Now here's the part where I tell you that our YouTube viewing habits show that 75% of us watch videos that relate to past events or people. Maybe we're sentimental after all.
As a marketing tool, though, nostalgia can feel like a cheap trick. Listening to Cheap Trick at Budokan, on the other hand? Now there’s a clue as to why nostalgia can be a useful emotion.
Don’t look back?
Despite its early roots as a 17th century psychopathological disorder observed in homesick Swiss soldiers, today nostalgia is largely seen as a positive adaptive tool.
Take for example Dr. Constantine Sedikides’ pioneering research into the science of nostalgia. He found that reminiscing increases feelings of belonging and connectedness, and decreases boredom, anxiety, and loneliness. It’s also shown to boost self-esteem, positivity, and tolerance.
Still, it’s hard to credit an auto-generated Spotify time capsule playlist as an effective trigger of positive emotions. So what levels up nostalgia for a happier, more resilient you?
True nostalgia smells like your teen spirit
While data algorithms may not accurately hit your specific sentimental sweet spot, research using MRI brain scans to study the makeup of nostalgic experiences reveals what does. The combo platter of “emotional and personal significance and chronological remoteness” is key to having the past truly pay off.
And therein lies the X factor for our cynical yet nostalgia-loving generation. This New York Times article hits on how effective reminiscing can alleviate our existential homesick blues:
There’s a model here for nostalgia that doesn’t wish away the distance between past and present; doesn’t romanticize the past as tragic and heroic; and doesn’t simply trivialize it (as so much 1980s nostalgia did) as trite and silly. Instead, it highlights our compulsion to interrogate our ghosts in search of meaning — and the inexorable way they slip our grasp.
In other words, for those of us who may be experiencing midlife dissatisfaction, nostalgia is a good way to mitigate the doldrums because it makes life more meaningful.
So ignore Boston’s advice — go ahead and look back. It’s always good to check the rear view mirror as you pull into the next lane of your life.
Photo Credit: H. Michael Karshis under Creative Commons 2.0