Nostalgia is an effective psychological medicine and boosts our positive feelings. Studies show that when people indulge in nostalgia, their positive mood increases and they become more optimistic about the future. Surprisingly, it also increases self-esteem and the perception that our life has meaning. Day to day life can be tedious and sometimes miserable, but nostalgia stimulates a sense of optimism and purpose. Looking backwards helps us to look forwards.
A study from the Department of Psychology, North Dakota State University by Clay Routledge , Tim Wildschut, Constantine Sedikides, Jacob Juhl & Jamie Arndt: The power of the past: Nostalgia as a meaningmaking Resource, demonstrated that when participants were persuaded to feel nostalgic they also felt more optimistic about the future. Their optimism was due to the fact that nostalgia made them feel more socially connected which in turn increased their feelings of optimism.
I embarked on a night of nostalgia on Sunday when I attended Secret Cinema at a secret location in London. Secret Cinema culminates in the screening of a film, but first the films locations, sets, characters and even plot are interpreted through music, installations, theatre and live performance in a huge, abandoned building. Audiences explore a live experience where film and reality merge. Secret Cinema takes the narratives of a film (on Sunday it was based around Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel) and creates a theatrical event around them. Secret Cinema has changed the way people who love cinema view films. You are not merely the passive viewer of the film but are totally immersed in it.
The dizzy plot of Anderson’s, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is fuelled by deadpan humor and set in Budapest during the interwar years. I donned a 1930s suit and checked into the interwar-era, Grand Budapest Hotel. What made the event enjoyable was that you had to make an effort. It was important to dress correctly for the period, learn to waltz, learn a poem and bring some pink flowers. That all added to the frisson of anticipation. Once inside, a labyrinth of extravagance and absurdity greeted you. We were free to roam the hotel's bedrooms, bar, restaurant and spa. The extrovert staff, all professional actors dressed to resemble the eccentric characters from the film, engaged you in lively banter. The 1930s Art Deco kitsch, Eastern European sets and theatrics were inspiring and eccentric. Secret Cinema were creative and inventive in the way they transformed an abandoned building and re-creating everything important from the film.
I sipped cocktails at the bar, danced a Waltz, listened to poetry recitals, ate schnitzel and bratwurst in the restaurant and listened to a traditionally dressed Georgian folk trio. One of the hotel staff, wearing an impeccable uniform, came up to me pushing a 1930’s pram with a stuffed badger inside and asked me if I’d like to stroke it. As I was stroking it and discussing how well behaved it was for a wild animal, a waiter from the restaurant ran up, snatched it away and shouted over his shoulder, ‘Sorry sir, I have to take this to the chef, a customer in the restaurant has just ordered badger.’ There were numerous possible variations to the evening, depending on which eccentric characters approached you, which rooms you explored and which stories you discovered. It was a great escape into nostalgia. The audience was completely enveloped in the world of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
But the whole point of the evening was to connect with others, particularly the inventive actors. The experience was down to the individual. The more you threw yourself into the event the more you gained from it.
Studies have found that the most nostalgic events are social. When people engage in nostalgia they feel closer to others. Nostalgia isn't solely about personal experience but about relationships. We link past events, films, objects, and music to the people we were with at the time. They remind us that people care about us and that we care about them. I have never been nostalgic and always looked to the future. ‘Never look back’ has always been my mantra but I came out of Secret Cinema with my mind racing with ideas and truly invigorated. It was an evening I’ll always be nostalgic about.
Rod Judkins MA RCA is an artist, writer and professional public speaker, delivering talks and workshops that explain the creative process and help individuals and businesses to be more inspired in their lives and work. He is author of the international bestseller, Change Your Mind: 57 Ways to Unlock Your Creative Self.