Why We Enjoy Nostalgia

It was embarrassingly recent that my roommates and I were sitting downstairs in our apartment watching the "SpongeBob SquarePants" movie together.  For the majority of the film, I felt full of rather pleasant and intense nostalgia. I found myself unsure as to whether we decided to watch that specific film because the plot and character design are actually good or simply to return to our childhood feels, but it got me thinking. Why do we like nostalgia so much? Being stuck inside during these COVID-19 centered times has really forced me to scrape the bottom of the barrel in terms of finding entertainment, and I've realized I often go for things I watched and enjoyed as a kid. It makes sense, especially now, that we would wish to ignore the rather chaotic present in favor of a simpler and more innocent past. However, I feel that people's appreciation of nostalgia goes beyond that. I definitely had a good childhood, but I also generally feel this way about my current life. Why would I want to escape that? Why does nostalgia still hit so hard? While doing a quick bit of research, I found a few reasons as to why this might be the case. 

  1. 1. It Calms Anxiety

    A photo of scrabble words assembled to spell "anxiety"

    Many people actually turn to nostalgia as a source of comfort and an anti-anxiety remedy. According to Krystine Batcho, Ph.D., “any change, good or bad, is very stressful. So what nostalgia enables you to do both emotionally and cognitively is keep track of what has remained stable, giving you some sense of continuity that grounds you.” Appreciating the past also tends to bring brighter thoughts of the future, according to Psychology and Social Psychology. This can be used to quell anxiety and make your current living situation more bearable, regardless of the situation.  

  2. 2. It Literally Makes You Warmer

    Girl In Snow With Jean Jacket

    This is the one on this list that shocked me. Apparently, according to Anna Gragert, experiencing nostalgia warms not only our heart and soul but our very body temperature. A study was conducted in 2012 in which participants would listen to music that reminded them of the past. Not only did they report feelings of nostalgia, but it was also found that their ambient temperature rose along with it. In addition to this, participants were also resistant to colder temperatures when they were feeling nostalgic. For example, dipping their hand in ice water was more bearable for those experiencing nostalgia than those who were not. This also explains why people tend to feel more nostalgic on cold days, as it literally helps them regulate their body temperature. Perhaps this is also a reason why people seem to be so obsessed with Christmas music when the seasons start changing. 

  3. 3. It Brings You Closer to Others

    image of two women whispering

    Nostalgia has also been shown to bring people close to their loved ones in several ways. For example, experiencing something with someone in the past gives you both the opportunity to reminisce together and enforce your bond. Or, if you and your significant other are having a rough time, thinking back to fonder parts of the relationship can serve as a good reminder for why you may want to fight through it. According to Bestlifeonline, people who tend to be wistful also have larger and more supportive social circles. This means that common feelings of nostalgia can actually be a predictor of the kinds of bonds you form with people. 

  4. 4. It Makes You Feel Younger and Counteracts Memory Loss

    brain/mind/memory being erased

    In general, people do not like to age. This goes beyond simply developing wrinkles and gray hairs and branches into a dislike of feeling like we may be running out of time. As dark as this sounds, reminiscing about fond memories can serve as a reminder that although our physical bodies may change with the passage of time, our memories and experiences are what makes us, us. We will continue to make new memories to add to these pleasant old ones. 

    Nostalgia can also be used to counteract memory loss (to a certain extent). If your memory starts to fade or change, a familiar song or photograph can assist in bringing them back to the surface. According to Bestlifeonline, it is common for Alzheimer's patients and their families to use nostalgia to envoke certain memories in an attempt to restore a sense of self. Of course, a diagnosed change in mental function isn't necessary for nostalgia to be useful, but it has been shown to help. It can be as simple as a familiar smell reminding you of certain holiday moments that you may have forgotten otherwise.  

  5. 5. My Childhood Self Just Knew What Was Up

    On a more personal note, I think another reason I enjoy nostalgia is that child-me simply had better taste in movies and entertainment than I do now. For example, while my present self may lean towards incredibly horrible reality television or overly dramatic cooking shows, my younger self had the sense to be obsessed with "Monsters Inc." and "Shrek" instead. Due to this, I'm never sure if the pleasure I get from watching them is more from fond childhood memories or simply having chosen things as an eight-year-old that even now, as a fully functioning 20-year-old living on her own, I still very much enjoy.  

As we can see, there are clearly more scientific reasons to why people enjoy nostalgia beyond that of simply missing childhood. All researching this has done for me is made me feel even more adjusted in aggressively watching my childish TV shows and listening to early 2000's music. I hope it has done the same for you.