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Nostalgia is a longing and affection for the past. This can encompass positive emotions such as happiness as well as other emotions and recollections, such as tenderness and longing. We have the feeling of nostalgia when we yearn for simpler times, for example, when we were children.

Johannes Hofer, a Swiss physician, coined the term in 1688; at that time, longing for the past and homeland was deemed an illness. Thinking about yesteryear can be filled with regret and bittersweet remembrances, and for people who are prone to rumination and depression, nostalgia can sometimes foster a negative state of mind. Nostalgia, however, is now generally regarded in a positive light. It’s self-reflection that connects us to fond memories and and can help build a coherent sense of identity.

The Emotional Comfort of Nostalgia

Through nostalgia, we can escape to a time when life felt more secure, or a time of positive experiences or events. When we feel uncertain or stressed, thinking back nostalgically can give us emotional comfort. Film, TV, and advertising campaigns deploy the use of nostalgia to great effect.

Is nostalgia based on selective memory?

People engaging in nostalgia do focus more on selective memories, recalling positive past events and experiences rather than negative and difficult ones. This perspective of time lets us downplay or even forget the hard times we have endured.

How do autobiographical memories relate to nostalgia?

We often rely on our autobiographical memories, which can be emotionally charged depending on the events that happened. We may also reform our memories into an idealized version of the event; in effect, we focus on the positives and minimize the negatives.

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How Nostalgia Helps Shape Us

By dipping into nostalgia, we can develop a narrative of who we are. We are connected to our past and feel a sense of continuity through nostalgia. This identity-shaping can also apply to a collective group, such as friends and family.

Does collective nostalgia bring people together?

A shared history can bring a group of people together, giving them a sense of meaning and connection. Nostalgia fosters social bonding and commonality. These can be events of the past remembered by members of a particular group—say, a shared ethnic group—which may differ from how the events are remembered by people in other groups. Collective memory may also be used to describe the remembering that happens within a smaller group, such as when members of a family discuss a shared experience or when people work together to help each other remember factual information, sometimes called collaborative recall.

Can a person get stuck in nostalgia?

Nostalgia is, for the most part, positive and helpful. However, being obsessed with the past can lead to maladaptive behavior; for instance, not being able to move forward with future plans or foregoing the present day while lingering on a long gone past. 

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