They say certain things are mind over matter. If you don’t mind it, it won’t matter. Shaking your boots off in the frigid cold, however, is pure physical torture. So, we reach for our warmest layers in our ever-so-stylish wardrobes and brave the cold in the dead centre of winter. But it’s not just about indulging in the superficial and materialistic goods that keep our temperatures rising. It’s also about the company we keep.
It’s the meaningful, mini-communal experiences that we end up cherishing the most. The warm and cosy feeling sets in once the collection of hearts, in close proximity, brings comfort to the mind. In turn, sparking and propelling nostalgia to the fullest. These new experiences become new memories for the future, and as always, we reminisce about such thoughts in the absence of warmth.
Our deep and intangible connection to the intimate corridors of our emotions is rekindled by moments that simply cannot be duplicated or replaced. Being held by a loved one when you lean on them the most, the gut-busting laughs that brought about the uncontrollable tears of joy or living the sweetest dream you never thought possible. True warmth is a feeling that triggers the floodgates of emotions coursing through your veins.
It always seems to revert to our past, as we feel desperate to cling to the photo albums of experiences in our minds. Movies, music and desirable destinations accumulate over the years. It’s been more apparent now than ever. We’ve been swept away lately with the Internet’s onslaught of nostalgic content. There was once a time when the slight mention of nostalgia was frowned upon. On record, it was considered a psychiatric disorder that caused anxiety, insomnia and depression. Now, it’s become the sentimental element being used as a marketing tool, no matter where you look.
Tim Wildschut, a researcher from the University of Southampton, comments on the psychological benefits of this term, regardless of the market value. “It enables someone to stimulate the presence of others. Stimulation can make you feel more connected or more loved, even in times when you are lonely or don’t have your friends in that immediate area.” Revisiting our happiest or positive moments serves as a mental safety net. Wildschut adds, “It may be that we cannot resist this because [nostalgia] is valuable and it is functional – we may collect more than is strictly necessary. Even if you have just a few you can keep coming back to them and they can sustain you. You might not need hundreds and thousands.”
From Stranger Things to back-in-the-day playlists on your favourite music streaming app, we’ve latched onto this human obsession that we are doomed to never let go. Some memories might be too painful, while others bring us home again, naive and oblivious to the rest of the world. Either way you look at it, it’s never a one-way street to bliss. If we are not careful, we might rely too much on our flawed memories, obstructing our view into the near future. Moving forward places a real fear of letting go of the past.
The two sides to this story are somewhat balanced out; it can both help and harm your mental state. It is stated that nostalgia is inherently bittersweet. This process reminds you of change and a reminder of how rich your life has been. Krystine Batch, PhD, an expert in nostalgia told the American Psychological Association (APA), “During difficult times, attention to our past can strengthen us by reminding us of how we survived challenges, loss, injury, failure or misfortune in the past. When we are sad or discouraged, it can be uplifting to remember that we are still the person who had been happy, strong and productive.”
According to the author of The Future of Nostalgia, Svetlana Boym, there are two types of nostalgia: restorative and reflective. The former can inspire you to press rewind and change or recreate your past, while the latter allows us to accept the memories for what they are. Unfortunately, the restorative type will tend to let you slip into melancholia when recalling certain memories. A clever strategy to avoid complete anguish is to think about the people you were really close to at the time, rather than focusing on the hurtful moments. Dr Batcho further supports this approach as stated to the APA, “What distinguishes a memory as nostalgic is typically the important role played by another – such as the presence and support of family or friends during a crisis.”
Ultimately, taking a trip down memory lane isn’t always going to muster up warm and fuzzy feelings. The journey between now and then isn’t always a smooth sailing gondola ride. But that’s actually okay and absolutely normal. More importantly, you should remember who or what triggered the memory, in order to change the way you view the incident. No matter the time or place, it is up to us to extract the positivity from each situation.
Nostalgia can be very powerful, and very difficult to avoid at the same time. Just like any process in life, we learn from our mistakes and shine in the moments that overwhelm us with sheer joy. As Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” So use those cherishing flashbacks to your advantage. Sit back with a cup of tea, relive the glory days, randomly smile or laugh and rejoice in all the warmth your personal nostalgia can bring.