My mother recently gave me a brooch that I had bought for her on holiday when I was about six years old. A somewhat tacky looking article (truth be known), consisting of diamond shaped bits of coloured glass, surrounded by hearts constructed out of fake pearl. Immediately, I was transported back through the years. It cost me 2/6 in the old money. I thought it was wildly expensive, I thought it was a gem on a parallel with the crown jewels. I thought I'd given my mother the earth. Even writing about that now, I still can experience the joy and excitement I felt at that moment.
This all came to mind after reading about research from University of Southhampton in the UK. Psychologist Tim Wildschut and his colleagues have found nostalgic memories, such as I experienced, to be a potent mood booster. They found that people who write about good memories are more cheerful compared to people who write about everyday events, report higher self-esteem and feel more positively about their personal relationships. These findings reinforce earlier studies which also show the protective psychological benefits of nostalgia.
Does mentally revisiting times, places, events, interactions really help? In an earlier post on rumination, a kind of mental chewing of the cud, I highlighted its role in the influencing the onset, severity and duration of depression. Isn't nostalgia a variation on the same thing and, therefore, potentially unhelpful?
A critical difference lies in thought content.
Ruminating about unpleasant events can have negative effects, potentially placing the individual at risk of retraumatisation. Rumination can increase an existent bias towards negative thinking, including distorted interpretations of life events, more negative self-evaluations, a sense of loss of control and more pessimistic predictions about the future. Ruminators often fail to generate solutions to problems and, even when they do, they often express low confidence in their solutions and fail to act on them.
However, with pleasant events, rumination can have a positive impact. Dr. Sonja Lyubormirsky of the University of California, one of the leading researchers on rumination, says this makes perfect sense.
"You don't want to get past a positive experience.
There's a magic and mystery in positive events, so analysing
them lifts the veil and makes wondrous events more ordinary."
Read more about the positive effects of nostalgia and strategies for incorporating good memories into your life here.