Mental Health A-Z What Is Nostalgia? By Arlin Cuncic Arlin Cuncic Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." Learn about our editorial process Published on May 23, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD Medically reviewed by Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD LinkedIn Twitter Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and a professor at Yeshiva University’s clinical psychology doctoral program. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Nostalgia? History Examples Types Benefits Negative Effects How to Avoid the Negative Effects What Is Nostalgia? Nostalgia Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. Nostalgia is usually triggered by something reminding an individual of an experience from the past. It is often characterized as a longing or desire to return to a former time or place. Nostalgia can also be thought of as "the memory of happiness," as it is often associated with happy memories from the past. It can be a source of comfort in times of sadness or distress. However, nostalgia is not just about happy memories; it can also be about longing for a time when things were simpler, or for a time when we felt more connected to others. History of Nostalgia Nostalgia is a relatively new concept. The word was first coined in 1688 by Swiss physician Johannes Hofer, who defined it as a neurological illness of continually thinking about one's homeland and longing for return. It was not until the 19th century that nostalgia began to be seen as a positive sentiment, rather than a pathological condition. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, for example, saw nostalgia as a way of reconnecting with our past and understanding our present. For Jung, nostalgia was a way to access the "collective unconscious"—the shared history and experiences that we all have as human beings. During the First World War, nostalgia was once again associated with illness, as soldiers away at battle longed for the comforts of home. However, after the war ended, nostalgia once again became a positive sentiment. Examples of Nostalgia From Popular Culture There are many examples of nostalgia in popular culture. The film It's a Wonderful Life (1946) is often cited as one of the most nostalgic films ever made. The film tells the story of George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart), a man who is considering suicide on Christmas Eve. However, he is visited by an angel who shows him how different his life, and the lives of those around him, would have been if he had never been born. The film's sentimental portrayal of small-town life in the early 20th century has helped to make it a holiday classic. The television series The Wonder Years (1988-1993) is another example of nostalgia. The show tells the story of Kevin Arnold (played by Fred Savage), a boy growing up in the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s. The show is notable for its use of voice-over narration from Kevin's older self, which gives the show a nostalgic feeling. The song "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston (originally released in 1992) is often cited as a nostalgic song. The song was written by Dolly Parton and is about a woman who is leaving her lover. However, she promises to always love him, even though they are no longer together. The song's sentimental lyrics and melody have helped to make it one of the most popular love songs of all time. Types of Nostalgia There are two types of nostalgia: positive and negative. Positive nostalgia is characterized by happy, rose-tinted memories of the past. It is often associated with feelings of warmth, happiness, and comfort.Negative nostalgia, on the other hand, is characterized by bittersweet or even painful memories of the past.It is often associated with longing, sadness, and regret. Nostalgia can also be divided into three different categories: personal, social, and cultural. Personal nostalgia is characterized by memories of specific people or events from one's own life.Social nostalgia is characterized by memories of a time when one felt more connected to others.Cultural nostalgia is characterized by memories of a time when one felt more connected to their culture. Benefits of Nostalgia Nostalgia has been shown to have a number of benefits. For example, nostalgia has been shown to: Boost mood Increase self-esteem Provide a sense of social support Help people to cope with difficult life transitions, such as divorce, retirement, and death Nostalgia can also have positive effects on physical health. For example, nostalgia has been shown to boost immune function and reduce stress levels.Nostalgia can also help to increase life satisfaction and reduce anxiety. Negative Effects of Nostalgia However, nostalgia can also have negative effects. For example, nostalgia can: Lead to a sense of loneliness and isolation Cause people to dwell on the past and become unhappy with the present Make people less likely to take action in the present 'I Hate Life': What to Do If Nothing Makes You Happy How to Avoid the Negative Effects of Nostalgia There are a few things you can do to avoid the negative effects of nostalgia: Think about the present moment. What are you doing right now that you enjoy? Make an effort to connect with others in the present. Spend time with people you care about. Talk to them about your positive memories. Do things that make you happy. Listen to music, go for walks, watch your favorite movie. Talk to a therapist. If you're feeling particularly down, talking to a therapist can help. Be mindful. Be aware of how much time you spend dwelling on the past. What Is Mindfulness? A Word From Verywell Nostalgia is a complex emotion that can have both positive and negative effects. If you find yourself feeling nostalgic, try to focus on the present moment and the people you care about. If nostalgia is causing you distress, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist. 13 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. The Atlantic. When Nostalgia Was a Disease. Battesti M. Nostalgia in the Army (17th-19th Centuries). Front Neurol Neurosci. 2016;38:132-142. doi:10.1159/000442652 Batcho KI. Nostalgia: The bittersweet history of a psychological concept. Hist Psychol. 2013;16(3):165-176. doi:10.1037/a0032427 National Endowment for the Arts. Did You Know.... It's a Wonderful Life edition. Biography. 10 Things You May Not Know About the Wonder Years. Whitney Houston. Whitney Houston ‘I Will Always Love You’ #1 In 1992 Abeyta AA, Routledge C, Kaslon S. Combating Loneliness With Nostalgia: Nostalgic Feelings Attenuate Negative Thoughts and Motivations Associated With Loneliness. Front Psychol. 2020;11:1219. Published 2020 Jun 23. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01219 Newman DB, Sachs ME. The Negative Interactive Effects of Nostalgia and Loneliness on Affect in Daily Life. Front Psychol. 2020;11:2185. Published 2020 Sep 2. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02185 Jiang T, Cheung WY, Wildschut T, Sedikides C. Nostalgia, reflection, brooding: Psychological benefits and autobiographical memory functions. Conscious Cogn. 2021;90:103107. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2021.103107 Ismail S, Christopher G, Dodd E, et al. Psychological and Mnemonic Benefits of Nostalgia for People with Dementia. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;65(4):1327-1344. doi:10.3233/JAD-180075 Juhl J, Wildschut T, Sedikides C, Xiong X, Zhou X. Nostalgia promotes help seeking by fostering social connectedness. Emotion. 2021;21(3):631-643. doi:10.1037/emo0000720 Batcho KI. Nostalgia: retreat or support in difficult times?. Am J Psychol. 2013;126(3):355-367. doi:10.5406/amerjpsyc.126.3.0355 Newman DB, Sachs ME, Stone AA, Schwarz N. Nostalgia and well-being in daily life: An ecological validity perspective. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2020;118(2):325-347. doi:10.1037/pspp0000236 By Arlin Cuncic Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." 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