The Surprising Benefits of Nostalgia

Thursday, July 11, 2013

For nearly five centuries, doctors have classified nostalgia as a disease—even a form a psychosis. John Tierney, science columnist for Takeaway partner The New York Times, says that a 17th century Swiss physician first identified nostalgia as a disorder. In the 19th and 20th centuries, as waves of immigrants settled in the United States, doctors called nostalgia "the immigrant psychosis," as new Americans remembered their homes and families in Europe. 

Recent research has shed new light on nostalgia.

"After a decade of study, nostalgia isn't what it used to be — it’s looking a lot better," Tierney writes.

Over the last ten years, Tierney explains, scientists have found that "people who actually indulge in these wistful memories...actually end up feeling more optimistic and more inspired about the future." 

Researchers have found that subjects that wax nostalgic tend to feel a deeper sense of social connection, toleration and generosity. One Chinese scientist even found that nostalgia caused her student subjects to feel warmer. 

"On cold days," Tierney says, "students were more likely to wax nostalgic. And then they did an experiment in the laboratory where they put some people in cool rooms...and some people in warmer rooms, and the people in the cool rooms were more likely to indulge in nostalgia. And when they did, they felt literally warmer."

On The Takeaway, Tierney shares memories that cause his own pangs of nostalgia. He describes how watching soccer reminds him of his childhood, growing up in Chile. "When I see that soccer brings back that feeling of being in third grade," he says. 


John Tierney

Hosted by:

Todd Zwillich

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger


T.J. Raphael

Comments [5]

Chris Garvey

Haiku - Nostalgia

Time was, "Nostalgia",
They called a "mental illness".
Those were good old days!

Copr. 2013 Chris Garvey

Jul. 11 2013 03:22 PM
Angel from Miami FL

I have about 4,000 songs on a MyPod, more than half are pre-2000 and I rarely listen to them. Nostalgia has a bitter aftertaste. The reality of the time is never far behind. I don't like doing things that "take me back". It makes me feel like the more I dwell in the past the less open I am to the future. I don't think there is any single period of my life where I would like to live in forever.

However, I wouldn't mind being physically 27 years old for as long as I live.

Jul. 11 2013 02:00 PM
Mark Suszko from Midwest

Well, it's not quite Sartre', but for me, the Song: "Rikki, Don't Lose That Number", by Steely Dan, is forever linked to the smell of a chlorinated swimming pool, and vice-versa. If I smell chlorine or bleach, the song pops up in my head. If I hear the song, I swear, I can smell a pool that isn't there. Its because I spent a LOT of time every day at the community swimming pool, the summer this song came out, and they blared WLS-AM over their P.A. system, that song got such heavy rotation that it fused this cross-sensory link.

Jul. 11 2013 01:05 PM
Sara Heinio from Philadelphia, PA

I grew up in Uppsala, Sweden. That is my country of origin. I get a lot of nostalgia from small things but immediately they bring me back to where I lived and all the little things I remember. Like every time I smell fresh cut grass or wet paint it reminds me of my childhood. We lived in a small neighborhood with identical attached row houses that were yellow, red and white. Neighbors were always painting their garage doors or windows and mowing their small back lawns. Also, a small random note on the subject includes the song "I Just Called To Say I Love You" by Stevie Wonder, my mother would play it for my sister who was just born in 1984 and would play it to make her stop crying. And it worked. So now every time I hear that song, it brings me back to growing up in Uppsala with my family.

Jul. 11 2013 12:34 PM
Tom Moore from Fort Worth, TX

Song that takes me back: Joan Baez, "Diamonds and Rust"

Jul. 11 2013 12:30 PM

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