With the rise of colouring books and remakes of old films, we’re a nation rose-tinted by nostalgia. Some psychologists say this is a reaction to our increasingly stressful lives – we want to return to a time when we had no pressure or adult responsibilities. In the age of mindfulness, a sentimental longing for the past doesn’t exactly sound like a healthy hobby.
But Dr Tim Wildschut, associate professor in psychology and expert in nostalgia at the University of Southampton, says nostalgia is a positive thing for most people. ‘It’s not a stuffy, past-orientated emotion, or just elderly people staring out the window. It’s an active, forward-looking, motivating emotion.’ And, it can boost our mood, raise self-esteem and help us feel more connected to others, adds Dr Wildschut. It can also improve our memory, creativity and fitness.
But how can going through an old photo album or watching movies do all that? ‘If we look back on cherished memories, it gives us confidence that similar things will happen again. It fills you with confidence and optimism about the future,’ says Dr Wildschut. So, rather than living on past glories, remembering previous events helps us feel more positive about our lives ahead.
Try our 5 tips to use nostalgia to boost your wellbeing:
1 Find something to write home about
Writing about a nostalgic event can trigger feelings of wellbeing. ‘Dip into your past to find something valuable,’ says Dr Wildschut. Try writing about a birthday party or your old pets.
2 Recreate the beginning of your relationship
‘Go back to where you had your first date, or send the kids to grandma’s and enjoy the kind of weekend you used to have,’ says Christine Webber, psychotherapist and relationships expert. ‘Stay in bed all day, watch old movies and don’t answer the phone!’
3 Raid your vinyl collection
Listen to your favourite tunes from your university years or first holiday away with friends. Evidence shows nostalgic songs make us feel more optimistic than those that don’t trigger happy memories.
4 Make a memory chest
Create a box of memories with a friend or relative who has dementia. ‘Put in significant photographs or small objects, like a piece of fabric or a cricket ball,’ suggests Martina Kane, senior policy of officer from the Alzheimer’s Society. ‘You could also watch key events, like the Queen’s Coronation or the 1966 World Cup final, together on YouTube.’
5 Seek out your favourite scents
‘Smell is very evocative – it can catapult us back to a moment,’ says Webber. Track down your old perfume to surprise your partner, or cook something that smells like your grandmother’s kitchen.