Nostalgia is defined as a wistful longing for the things, people or places from the past. Who hasn’t felt that bittersweet desire for a past event or moment in time? It has the power to warm you up, offer comfort and even to ward off despair. According to a recent article in the New York Times, nostalgia isn’t the same as homesickness. Instead, it’s more subtle–a harkening back to a previous time that can make today feel better.
About a decade ago, Constantine Sedikides, of the University of Southhampton, developed the Southhampton Nostalgia Scale, and demonstrated that nostalgia helps contract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. Furthermore, nostalgia can warm us up on a cold day, make us more tolerant of strangers and increase generosity and optimism.
I am prone to nostalgia. I believe that the story we tell ourselves about the people and events in our lives make our reality. This is the power of story telling–we can actually create our reality by creating a story about our reality. Nostalgia is an important element in this. We look back at the past, either distant or more recent, and long for those moments. Glossing over the negative, we hold fast to sunny emotions and create our own oral history to play on our mental soundtrack.
I do this all the time. I’m the Queen of Nostalgia, replaying vintage scenes from bonfires on the beach to powder days on the slopes. I also have what Sedikides calls “anticipatory nostalgia.” In the midst of a beautiful moment, I can transport myself into the future and look back at that very instance with a nostalgic lens, knowing that I will cherish the terrifying beauty and the ultimate essential something of the moment.
I know what this looks like. It looks like I’m way too far inside my head. When I should be dazzled by the flames of the bonfire against the night sky or enjoying the fleeting spray of powder in my face, I’m thinking about thinking. I’m not in the moment at all. And maybe I am too far inside my head. At least that’s what Sedikides’ colleagues thought of him. Perhaps that’s why he sought to prove that nostalgia was actually good for you.
Being too far in the moment can cut us off from nostalgia, and from building judgment by learning from mistakes. Maybe being in the now all the time isn’t exactly what it’s cracked up to be. Sure, fearing the future and regretting the past is no way to be. But what if we’re longing for the past in a positive way and it makes us feel stronger and more equipped for the present?
Perhaps this is why apres ski bars exist at all. So that we can all rehash the day, nostalgizing (yes, that’s actually a word) about the conditions and the light and the cold quality of the snowflakes that fell that day. Maybe a little bit of living in the past can be a good thing, as long as our memory bank doesn’t keep us from getting out there to make new memories the next day.
What do you think? What are you nostalgic for?