Image Credit: National Telefilm Associates (Screenshot of the movie) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sure, I may have watched Home Alone and Jurassic Park (or maybe even, ahem, Bring it On) more than anyone alive. But why do these movies from the past have such a hold on me? Why do I touch my hands to my face along with Kevin McCallister during my annual yuletide viewing of the film, and why am I so happy about it?
Nostalgia. It's powerful. It’s so powerful that you don’t even need to have experienced the memories attached to the feeling for it to take effect. I wasn’t alive in the 70s, but my wardrobe and music tastes tell a very different story.
Past memories become distorted, even idealized, with time. Any negative feelings associated with certain events often find a way of filtering themselves out. Nostalgia provides an often much-needed break from reality, transporting you to a time free of responsibilities, problems, and anxieties. During more unsettled life stages, especially in late teens, early 20s, 50+ years of age, you might notice a heavier reliance on this feeling.
A real adult life can make you yearn for the days you seemed safe and uninhibited, even if you’re not remembering those days correctly.
Triggered most powerfully by scent, old photos can certainly get the job done, too. I’ll admit that I check the “On This Day” feature of Facebook often, recalling what I was up to one, five, even ten years ago on the same date (yes, I’ve been on Facebook for twelve years if you can believe it).
Besides nailing the rap in TLC’s “Waterfalls,” there are benefits to nostalgia. Real benefits.
It’s actually considered a valuable coping mechanism for depression, anxiety, and especially grief. Plus, not only does it counteract anxious feelings, it can actually make you more hopeful about the future. No wonder a higher occurrence of nostalgic feelings are found in the most resilient people.
My own theory is that life is uncertain, and the only thing that's really definite is what has already happened. It makes sense that we would want to be reminded of that when we're dealing with situations we never expected, especially when those situations aren't particularly great.
Nostalgia is also a unifier. It evokes something that everyone has felt regardless of age, race, class, life track. That means it can actually increase empathy and communications skills in us humans. And we all need more of that.
Reflecting on these memories also helps you to add value and meaning to your life, to piece together something that makes sense to you. Thinking about previous achievements can motivate you and refocus you for any challenging tasks at hand.
My own theory is that life is uncertain, and the only thing that’s really definite is what has already happened. It makes sense that we would want to be reminded of that when we’re dealing with situations we never expected, especially when those situations aren’t particularly great.
And maybe it makes you feel like whatever memory you’re recalling wasn’t all that long ago. Perhaps it helps you feel younger and more in control of time than you really are. Until flux capacitors are readily available, it may be the only thing remotely close to a time machine that we have.
Now excuse me while I go fight for tickets to next year’s Desert Trip aka “Oldchella.” Fogies from the golden generation aren’t the only ones who want to see Roger Waters perform, mmkay?