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A Nostalgia Expert Says Reminiscing Can Provide Happiness (so Keep Reposting Those Old Photos)

Mary Grace Garis

Mary Grace GarisApril 10, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images/Halfpoint Images

As of late, when I see other people post old vacation shots of Greece, Versailles, or even Portland, I’m reminded that Throwback Thursday is now every day. (And, really, that’s fine because what even are days anyway in this endless-feeling mess of a time?) On a warmer note, though, it’s heartening to see how being nostalgic is keeping people rolling during this coronavirus crisis, which has put our regularly scheduled lives are on hold. And it make sense why reminiscing gives way to good vibes: The psychology of nostalgia actually provides for a warm, supportive energy.

“Nostalgia helps remind us that we do have some control during a time of great uncertainty,” says licensed psychologist Krystine I. Batcho, PhD, who researches the psychology of nostalgia. “Even though we can’t control so much of what has been happening, we can remember how we dealt with crises before and survived them. Equally importantly, nostalgic memories remind us of those we love and who have loved us, which strengthens our sense that we are not in this alone.”

“Nostalgic memories remind us of those we love and who have loved us, which strengthens our sense that we are not in this alone.” —psychologist Krystine I. Batcho, PhD

Indulging in nostalgic reverie and allowing yourself to pause and daydream about the good old days facilitates feelings of calmness, warmth, and helps curb loneliness. (And, I mean that quite literally: A 2012 study by the University of Southampton found that nostalgia altered participants’ temperature perception.) So those who can’t physically quarantine with you can still provide comfort, spark smiles, and inspire thoughts and fond memories. This process allows for reestablishing a connection that’s lost during social distancing.

But how do you channel these nostalgic feelings in a positive way, rather than one that’s self-destructive and veers into a land of loathing? Well, outline below are a few ideas to explain just that.

4 ways to use the psychology of nostalgia as a positive comfort right now

1. Reacquaint yourself with your inner child

Dr. Batcho says many nostalgic memories can help us recapture feelings of childhood, like safety, security, innocence, and being loved and cared for. So to use this component of the psychology of nostalgia to your own benefit, consider breaking out old-school board or video games (Mario Party, anyone?) or watching vintage cartoons with your best friend over Netflix Party. Bonus points if you eat Lucky Charms in your pajamas the whole time.

2. Use throwback music to resurrect your most joyous moments

“We can trigger beneficial nostalgia by listening to the songs we loved during better times, songs that inspire and encourage us and remind us of all the goodness they’re associated with,” says Dr. Batcho. “For example, we might remember songs our relatives and friends loved to sing. Couples can listen to their ‘special song.’ Many nostalgic songs have emotional significance from the people, places, and occasions we associate with them.”

“Music can re-energize the dreams and aspirations we had when we were idealistic, before difficult events might have jaded us and introduced negative attitudes, such as skepticism or mistrust.” —Dr. Batcho

And definitely don’t neglect jams from your teen years. Because they’re connected to a formative time in our lives, they can revive memories and feelings associated with the people and experiences that helped make us who we are. “Music from our teen years reminds us of our belief in and desire for the best that love can be,” says Dr. Batcho. “Perhaps more importantly, the music can re-energize the dreams and aspirations we had when we were idealistic, before difficult events might have jaded us and introduced negative attitudes, such as skepticism or mistrust.”

3. Look through the physical souvenirs of a triumph

Looking through actual photo albums, souvenirs from vacations, and old yearbooks can all take you for a stroll down memory lane, which may be really centering if you feel like certain milestones—like your birthday, graduation, or anything else you’d been looking forward to—have been robbed from you during this time. Take note of the past celebrations and accomplishments where you were both loved and valued.

“It’s soothing to think about how much we’ve experienced, and how far we’ve come,” says Dr. Batcho. “Many of the nostalgic memories revived by such reminiscence put things in perspective. They remind us of what and who are most important to us and help us understand the meaning and purpose in our lives.”

4. Reminisce with others

Personal reminiscing is beneficial, but playing a game of “Remember the time when…?” with a friend really promotes bonding and togetherness in a moment when achieving exactly that is quite difficult.

“It’s important to extend beyond ourselves and share with others,” says Dr. Batcho. “Social media and digital meetings are wonderful ways to exchange memories and remind each other that physical distancing won’t last forever. We’ll be back together again having lunch, celebrating achievements, and showing off our new outfit, pet, or toddler’s adorable antics.”

How to stop nostalgia from turning into self-loathing

To that end, getting stuck in nostalgic rumination tends to happen in our loneliest hours. This strain of extremely wistful nostalgia can be dangerous for yourself and your friends. So, remember to check in on each other.

“The main risk for unhealthy nostalgia lies in trying to do it all ‘solo,'” Dr. Batcho says. “If we find ourselves becoming trapped in sadness, we need to reach out to others. Not only is it great to receive support, but it’s incredibly beneficial to extend support to others. Extending a digital hug to another feels good and can encourage us to look forward to better times. Just as there were good times before, there will be good times ahead.”

Here’s how to cultivate a sense of normalcy and shake yourself out of survival mode. And here are five strategies for staying positive, according to Yale’s Happiness expert.

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