Nostalgia is defined as a “sentimental longing for the past.” For me, looking back at photos of holidays with friends and family over summer brings up a wealth of bittersweet emotions. Even just photos of starting at university in September presents a longing to return to times where the weather was warmer and there weren’t so many essay deadlines- but is this nostalgia more harmful than good? And does our generation feel it more potently than others?
With our mobile phones constantly near us, and camera rolls easily accessible, it is not difficult for us to look back on past events with nostalgia. Because social medias such as Instagram and TikTok are so popular for posting regular life updates, it seems natural that we take more photos and videos than, say, our parents would have done. Whilst this means that we can reminisce and share our memories more readily with others, it also means that we are more vulnerable to negative forms of nostalgia.
Overall, psychologists have suggested that nostalgia can have a positive impact on our mental health. Being nostalgic for specific events, places or people can provide us with comfort in times of difficulty- serving as a reminder of the people in the world that love us, and that life does have many enjoyable and memorable moments to offer. Often, when feeling sad or lonely, looking at pictures of remembering happier times generally serves to bring our minds back to a more positive place.
Not only this, but nostalgia is shareable! Feeling nostalgic is not limited to life events/ memories, but can also be for certain foods, games and even TV shows. Personally, I have had many hilarious conversations with friends and family about the kind of TV shows we used to watch as kids and have bonded with others over weird food preferences we’ve had in the past. Shared nostalgia is a way of developing a deeper connection with someone, and even a way to bond and avoid awkwardness with people we have just met, potentially leading to new friendships.
On the other hand, especially if you feel bored, unhappy, or ‘stuck’ in life, being nostalgic may lead to you romanticising the past to the point you feel even more dissatisfied with the present moment. An overwhelming longing to return to the past can prevent you moving forward with your life. Whether it be dwelling on a past relationship or a previous job that you have moved away from, too much nostalgia can reinforce negative feelings instead of combatting them. Furthermore, too much nostalgia can lead you to questioning and ruminating on past decisions that are now beyond your control, which can reinforce low moods and anxieties.
In conclusion, the accessibility of media in the form of photos and videos on our camera roll has likely increased levels of nostalgia in younger generations. Whilst this can have a positive effect on our lives by serving as a reminder of happy times when we are feeling sad, or providing opportunities to bond with others, it is helpful to notice when feeling nostalgic for the past is reinforcing cycles of overthinking and negative emotions. When feeling low, it is helpful to consider the future as well as the past, and how you may challenge these feelings of longing to enable you to make even more pleasant memories in the future.