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A blast from the past could be a blast for your physical and psychological wellbeing. Nostalgia—reveling in the past and reminiscing about the good ol’ days—is about more than just daydreaming. Researchers say it’s also the foundation for your health and happiness.
Cue sourdough bread-making during the pandemic, or digging into classic comfort food when you’ve had a rough workweek. The solace these things provide isn’t just your imagination. Psychologists and researchers have found that thinking fondly of the past, and embracing nostalgia, can bring these powerful health benefits to your life.
1. Reduced stress and anxiety
Studies analyzed nostalgic people who regularly think about positive past experiences, such as cheerful childhood memories. They found that nostalgia helps us to better cope with stressful situations.
And it’s not just about using memories as a way to lighten life’s current burdens. Researchers also found that nostalgic individuals are more likely to take positive action during times of stress.
2. Protection against loneliness
Health researchers warn that loneliness is a health epidemic. A lack of healthy social connection is linked with numerous health problems, like increased heart disease and stroke risk.
Several studies have found that nostalgic memories help combat the effects of loneliness. When you reminisce about times you’ve been with a friend or family member and felt their love and acceptance, it can make you feel more loved and socially connected in the present.
3. Greater sense of life meaning and purpose
A series of studies asked participants to think about their past goals and positive experiences, and reminisce about their old dreams for their future.
Those who were most nostalgic had a greater sense of their life purpose and were better able to find meaning in their life’s circumstances.
4. Improved self-confidence
When life gets challenging, it’s easy to get stuck in cognitive distortions or mindset traps, like assuming the worst possible outcome will happen. These mindsets are a form of mental self-sabotage that stand in the way of you and your happiness.
Nostalgia helps. People who reflect on times they’ve overcome a challenge, used a skill, proved themselves wrong, or done the impossible are better equipped to break through these negative mindset ruts.
5. Healthier, happier aging
Graduating from high school. Getting your first job. Falling in love and having children. Retiring. Much of your life’s journey is fragmented into these short chapters. And progressing through these chapters of change can be stressful, especially as you get older.
Nostalgia helps you connect the dots, experience the fullness of your experiences, and move through life with improved psychological well-being and less stress. It’s also been shown to improve your idea of self-continuity—maintaining a sense of self as your world changes—and helping you to get comfortable with your own mortality.