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Is Nostalgia Healthy?

Companies often reissue discontinued toys, like wind up robots, to appeal to aging consumers.
An overwhelming sense of home sickness was grounds for military dismissal until the 1860s.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 17 April 2014
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The word nostalgia is derived from two Greek words: nostos, meaning 'homecoming', and algos, meaning 'pain.' The medical professionals who coined the word in the late 18th century were describing a serious emotional and physical condition, not the current meaning of wistful thoughts of earlier times. Originally, nostalgia was viewed as a crippling condition that rendered sufferers incapacitated by despair or intense homesickness. Soldiers suffering from this condition were often pulled off duty in order to recover their sense of purpose.

Indeed, nostalgia was considered a legitimate condition for voluntary release from military service even through the 1860s. If a soldier became too overwhelmed by thoughts of home or the life he left behind, his abilities as a fighter could be compromised. The damaging effects were a major problem for militaries and other government agencies around the world for hundreds of years. Only with improved treatments for melancholia and depression did the clinical definition of nostalgia begin to fade from history.

Almost everyone has experienced nostalgia in its modern sense, as a wistful memory of childhood or a strong feeling of homesickness. It can also trigger a sense of euphoria as a pleasant memory is recalled. In fact, a number of industries and services depend on their customers' feelings of nostalgia and longing. Toy companies routinely bring back favorite childhood toys of an older demographic, while television production companies reissue older titles to tap into the viewers' sense of nostalgia. The popularity of collectibles stores also points to its commercial value.

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While nostalgia in reasonable doses can provide a sense of comfort for stressed-out adults, too much can have a negative effect. It is very common to believe that an earlier decade was preferable to present day conditions, but that viewpoint can be misleading. People who grew up in the 1950s may remember hula hoops, Elvis Presley and penny candies, but they usually don't indulge memories of McCarthyism, repressive roles for women and a lack of racial equality. Every decade has its positive and negative aspects, so an unrealistic sense of nostalgia may create an unhealthy distortion of reality. Some people can get caught up in feelings about a more ideal past that make their current lives seem mundane or unfulfilling by comparison.

Painful feelings of nostalgia can often be addressed by acquiring a beloved item or planning a visit to a childhood hometown. It may hurt more when combined with feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. The power of knowing you can revisit parts of your past can help to lessen the effects of homesickness or nostalgia. It is important to remember, however, that these feelings are normal and healthy, but making a conscious effort to live in the past may not be. If a healthy sense of nostalgia seems to be turning into an unhealthy depression, you should seek professional counseling to regain a proper balance.

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anon924568
Post 25

I am always, literally always, nostalgic. I just cannot help it. Everything reminds me of something happier than the here and now. I am starting to think though, that I may also be nostalgic for people and places I've never even known. But how do they seem so familiar? It's such an absurd feeling and I cannot possibly put it into words. The future is scaring me so much because I live an unhealthy amount in the past and am already thinking that the best days have gone while I am only twenty.

anon359532
Post 24

I am really impressed by the words of one of the anonymous posters. I am just 44 years old, and for some strange reason I have a desire to be able to step inside old photos and live a life in the past. Why? Because its simplicity is appealing to me, and people seem more humble and satisfied with small things (false assumption?). The human connections seem to be stronger, but were they really?

I remember consciously many moments since I was five years old playing with my pistol with fire stones in it making it flash, walking along my mum and dad's bed in the back room.

It's not that I long to live that moment again, it's not that I want to change things, because I am happy with my current life. It's just that the passage of time makes me completely flip as I remember so well that moment and it was not a big moment or incident or something but just a moment as there are 40,000 others, yet this moment stands for something unmanageable that time passes but emotional memory brings that moment of now 39 years ago as close that it’s as I can make one step back into it, yet it was 39 years ago. It makes me flip when I am in that memory or mindset, but it does not make me feel healthy at all. The price of walking back like that into memories is that I feel a bit depressed because although that moment is so close (in memory) it's gone forever and you can't go back. Nobody has to explain that to me.

The motion of time and emotional memories don't fit. I have the impression that sticking my nose too long inside those memories or watching old photos makes me feel satisfied that my memory permits me to cherish these moments forever, but the connection I have with my emotional personality inside that photo, that part of me that remained the same, is making it even a bit dangerous, so after a minute or 10 it's enough and I say to myself "that's enough".

I did my best to describe how I experience nostalgia. It's strong. It's pure acid in my body after 10 minutes. It's good to have it I think, but if you get too much of it you drown.

anon356115
Post 23

I am not young, but like you all, I have felt this strong nostalgic feeling all my life, which is accompanied with major depression. It may be the nostalgia causes depression.

I have never talked to any therapist about it, but this nostalgia causes so much pain in my heart, that I feel my heart will explode. I cry all day when I get depressed, because the nostalgia feeling comes back.

It is about the past, and even though I know one day I will be also nostalgic about today, but unfortunately, I can’t help it. It has zapped all my energy and motivation and will to live. It is this pain that made me look for these sites. I thought I was the only one feeling this way.

anon354365
Post 22

I often become nostalgic at sunset. I don't know why. I look at myself in the mirror and realize my life has passed by without me realizing it.

I now see a pleasant-looking grandpa who misses his youth and the things that used to make me happy and excited about life. Who doesn't remember how full of life most young people feel when they wake up, wondering what the new day will bring? Will they perhaps meet that special person or do they feel excited thinking the weekend is coming and they get to spend it with their group of friends. How exciting it was to take a blanket in the car, lay it out on the grass after dark, lay down with a group of friends, of both sexes, and laugh with them until early hours!

Now I do not feel excitement or happiness for anything in my life. Everything is predictable and boring. Sorry, but in my case it's true. I must say I feel better knowing I'm not alone in my nostalgia for my youth. Thanks for this interesting post!

anon354280
Post 21

I know all these feelings. I'm 27 and get extremely nostalgic towards the 90s. Whenever I hear the music, taste the sweets or see the faces of old friends, etc., I can't help but feel sad and my mind wanders back to those days. It's hard to explain, but I sit and listen to the distant sound of cars and it has some kind of meaning, like it creates a train of thought of the past.

anon350087
Post 20

Nostalgia is a emotional situation which could make us value the shining small things we may not notice when we have them in front our eyes. Nostalgia is a true feeling that comes out from the heart, we need to obey its call and to live its effects, also we can swim in depression for minutes. Nostalgia could drive a lot of things straight to our lives. But yes, it is a bittersweet reality we sometimes feel, and mostly, we need to feel. It is a flawless time to consider changes. We can connect with ourselves and in the best cases, we can think about what are we needing to include in our lives. Good article, liked it. Greetings from Venezuela.

anon350055
Post 19

I'm a 23 years old boy, my birthday was the last september 25. I consider myself as a positive person with talents and imperfections like everybody. No one knows how many times I have been alone and thinking about so much things while being touched by nostalgia... I constantly feel the need to go back to my old days, I feel like dealing with the same old questions, but when I analize them, it's like I actually have the answers I have found in other opportunities, I feel these answers here with me. But the feeling of emptyness and loss never dies.

I have not a sad life, I'm just a normal person like everyone else. I don't really know I seem to be stuck in this situation but I have to admit (in some way) I enjoy it... I can't really explain it, I mean, that is a perfect time of reflection, being alone and take that time to put order to some ideas. and in the end, I find some kind of strength in myself. I also have to admit I had found out I was depressed for a long time but didn't know until that day and thanks to know it, I could understand some things with more clarity.

There are sounds, images, sensations, etc., in my head all the time and they represent fragments of joy, happiness, old good memories that make me live those old experiences again in 5 seconds or less... And make me want to live them over and over again because they were untouchable back in the day and they are still being untouchable.

Nostalgia sometimes throws me into another reality... A gray day, I walk alone and there is no noises, in a natural and relaxing place where there is only you, your thoughts, few birds flying and singing softly, and the sun doesn't set until you feel some peace after thinking... Like a dream, but yes... Real.

There are true and good viewpoints up above. I'm glad there is people honest about it. I could talk about all this for hours but it will be boring. I think nostalgia is healthy, we need to interpret it in a right way, or in the way we feel it right to us.

Thanks for the article, good post.

(Sorry for my english)

AV98.

anon337827
Post 18

It's when you've been feeling nostalgic for over a year or two when you realise the absurdity of it. Because now I feel nostalgic about two years ago, when I had my friends living closer and there were fewer worries. But at the time I missed being at school and my other friends there. It's a deceptive and strange way to be.

It's such a tempting feeling, though -- a deep and almost painful longing, something which is grateful and happy on the one hand, but bitter and sad on the other.

Appreciate what you have because I'll bet in a few years you'll miss these current days!

anon336449
Post 17

I experience this every day. I'm a 19 year old english boy, and I really miss my old life where I was in a happy family before my parents were divorced and my Nan and granddad were still alive.

I just replay random memories through my head all the time and it pains me knowing I'll never experience that again. I live 300 miles away from where I grew up and my dad also lives there. He left when I was 15 and since then I've seen him briefly on four or five occasions and times going too fast. I just hope I'm not starting to get depressed.

anon334026
Post 16

Whenever I think of the past times I lived, I always fill up with a sad feeling of loss. Those times are gone, those friends are gone and everything is different now. It was perfect then.

To me, nostalgia is a strange, emotional feeling, full of gladness that it happened but so very, very sad that it's gone. It makes me feel lonely and lost. Nostalgia is not just a memory; it's a strong emotion. Is that even normal?

anon328418
Post 15

My impressions of nostalgia relate to a time when things were better such as a neighborhood that I once lived in that is now an example of urban decay. Or the high school that I attended which is now closed. Although I have no wish to turn back the clock, I often wonder why such changes had to occur.

anon325779
Post 14

At this very moment I am feeling nostalgic. This is probably because I am afraid to move on and face the present and future properly.

I am missing how I had lived with my grandparents--their cooking, their care, their way of speaking towards me, their presence.

I sometimes visit there, but every time I visit, I get to feel more lonely -- yes, lonely and sad. I sometimes make the effort to relive the past, which I found unhealthy after reading the article above.

I also think that nostalgia is also caused by the sadness one feels at her present situation. This is because at this very moment, I am very sad. My father's about to leave for his job and he'll be gone for 6 months.

I am not really that close with my pop but after he stayed here for nine months, I have come to endear myself to him.

And now I am feeling very sad and lonely again. I last had this feeling when I was a kid -- the feeling of wanting him to stay here. The last time I had this feeling, it was easy on my part because my grandparents were there to support and care for me, and ease the feelings I had. But now, I have no one who understands, support and comforts me.

I am very sad and very lonely. Because of the feeling that my only father will be gone again.

anon315176
Post 11

@anon313875: Keep on moving. You get to a point where it doesn't hurt so much anymore since you are too busy with today. But, there will always be days it hits you. Remember: For each who suffer through this, there is someone who has overcome it.

anon313875
Post 10

I often think about my childhood. It was a very mixed bag for me, as I was an only child and was never was given the chance to ever feel a strong bond with my family. I grew up mostly in my head and in front of the TV. I was sometimes left with strangers who would in turn, turn me over to the their kids, who would abuse me.

Still, I feel a sense of wonder, because I know I was still a happy child, even though sometimes the world seemed so dark. And I'm so glad that I've come so far, but that darkness still lingers at the fringes of my reality.

Sometimes I slip back in to the darkness. I never knew the etymology of the word "nostalgia" before now, but it describes perfectly how I feel sometimes -- how I feel now. I was cleaning out my mother's home today, as my stepfather had recently died, when I came across some old childhood drawings that put me back this way.

When I was a teenager, I grew my hair out long and hid hid behind it. Sometimes I still feel that way.

But, I just wanted to say that there is hope. I think about where I've come from, and where I am now, and where I would like to be. You just have to go there - look for something to do now. Set goals for yourself - keep a journal, and write down everything, and if you're not meeting your goals, write down why you think that is and what you think you might do instead.

There's no real universal answer. Your truths are your own. I'm almost 30 years old, and I'm just now beginning to find confidence in myself. It's hard, but I'm getting stronger every day.

anon311360
Post 9

I think nostalgia comes when you are not happy. So you think back to the times where you were happy. But this is just damaging. You live now, so do your best to fix your life.

anon302630
Post 8

I've been getting nostalgic over my hometown and old friends and memories. Although I moved to a much nicer area, I constantly find myself reminiscing and missing the city I spent the first 15 years of life growing up in. I spend at least 80 percent of my spare time wishing to go back to those times. I wish there was a cure.

anon286060
Post 7

Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, because it stops us focusing on the present. In his latest episode, The Blue Angel deals with a 90s kid struggling to shake off the past.

anon269428
Post 6

I too have the same exact feelings as donbri5. I am always sitting and thinking about the summers I would spend at my grandmother and grandfathers house and how I would do anything to be able to relive those days. These days that I am living in can't compare to those days of my childhood. I always want to be somewhere I am not.

friends4ever
Post 5

A childhood friend of mine was killed and her body found in a creek after going missing for 19 days. I had not spoken to her in about 30 years, but attended her funeral. What's more eerie is that I picked up the paper that day and read the obituaries which is something I never do, and discovered what happened. I often find myself wandering back to that place in time when we were all kids and trees were everywhere dappled with sunlight.

pollick
Post 3

Sometimes it helps to revisit a place that holds so much nostalgia for you now. What can become so depressing is the idealization of a certain time or place in your past and the jarring comparison to the realities of your current life. If you can revisit those places and put them into better perspective, then you may not feel as depressed in the present. Yes, you had wonderful times at that school or in that city or in that house, but they are just buildings or locations, nothing more and nothing less.

Enjoy the memories that nostalgia brings, but try not to confuse an idyllic memory with the joys living in the "now" can offer.

flowerchild
Post 2

@donbri5--I am sorry to hear that. One thing that I have found to be helpful for me when I am getting to nostalgic, is to try to focus on the blessings I have today. Also, I focus on the positive things I am able to do now that I could not do when I was younger.

donbri5
Post 1

I have experienced this personally. Sometimes I start thinking back to when I was a teenager and get depressed about getting older and not being where I would like to be. Does anyone know of a way to keep the nostalgia at a healthy point without getting into the depression?

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