If you could travel through time in only one direction, would you choose to move forward or backward? Read More
I've often wondered about this topic and how it may relate to people who have not had picture-perfect pasts, but whom seem to get nostalgic for their childhoods or past lives regardless. Is this due to the fact that people just grow comfortable with whatever they're familiar with? Even if that reality is not very pleasant? (Think about the movie Shawshank Redemption, where the old librarian-inmate is released from prison after many decades, and actually longs for his old life in prison because that had become his "home").
You make an interesting and important observation. Research suggests that nostalgia stems at least in part from the need for affiliation. When a person is uprooted or displaced, their sense of belonging in a community can be threatened or diminished. In such cases, nostalgia helps to preserve the feeling of being socially connected. Your example of the inmate released from prison after decades illustrates such a situation. Other examples are people displaced from their home countries during war or even students away from home for the first time. Once people develop new social networks the intensity of longing for the past home often weakens or becomes relegated to select trigger occasions (such as anniversaries).
Some research suggests that nostalgia is also associated with more favorable perceptions of one's childhood. How a person thinks about the past can be as important as the actual attributes of that past. We can learn from adversity, and we can enjoy personal growth after surviving negative events. Thank you for your insightful comment.
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Krystine Batcho, Ph.D., is a professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York.
Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?