When Nostalgia Backfires
Does reminiscing help us or hold us back?
The sight of her husband baking bread has become all too familiar over the past six months to Sophia Yen, a California-based MD. He’ll spend hours in the kitchen doing what has now become a family event, as their youngest daughter loves to join to pat and push the dough together. Meanwhile, the couple has taken a renewed interest in music they listened to when they were high school sweethearts, circa the mid-’80s. “Depeche Mode, Take on Me by a-ha, and Michael Jackson! We also just recently watched live readings of The Princess Bride and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It’s so stressful right now and these activities [give us some relief],” says Yen, who is the co-founder of a birth control delivery startup called Pandia Health. They harken back to the “good ol’ days,” she says.
Yen and her family aren’t the only ones looking to the past for comfort right now. A study from KU Leuven, a university in Belgium, found a significant increase in nostalgic consumption of music on Spotify during shutdowns. Another study, from the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K., categorized the feeling of nostalgia as one of the wellness benefits of viewing nature via a webcam during a shutdown. A June 2020 paper from Clemson University strongly recommended people adopt nostalgia as a coping mechanism amidst the shutdown. The Clemson study went on to offer an array of nostalgia-based tips (or “paths”) to battle the corona blues, such as replaying famous sporting events, classic films, and notable concerts from the past; playing traditional board games with friends and family; or baking bread and making fresh pasta together.
“[Nostalgia is] a reflection of a fairly stable, fairly knowable, and usually positive past, and that for a lot of people can help calm anxieties during the pandemic.”
The modern definition of nostalgia is “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” “Nostalgia has a palliative impact,” says Gregory Ramshaw, PhD, associate professor at Clemson and co-author of the June paper. “It’s a reflection of a fairly stable, fairly knowable, and usually…