Golden memories

written by Terry Robson


Nostalgia is big business. You can see evidence of this in prints on t-shirts, sales of “classic” movies, and tours of rock bands where the average band member age is 71. Dynamic Business magazine has even noted that across Australia in 2013 there is a trend toward fitting out cafés and bars in nostalgic, retro décor. So what is the appeal of nostalgia? On the surface of it nostalgia is just about the past but a new study has shown it is much more than that, it is about the future as well.

To study the effect of nostalgia researchers conducted a series of studies. In one study the researchers asked subjects to bring to mind a nostalgic event and write about it. Another group was asked to write about an ordinary event. When the words used by the two groups were analysed it was found that the group writing about nostalgic events used many more optimistic expressions.

In a second study subjects either listened to a song that had nostalgic value for them or to a song that had been established to be neutral for them. When the researchers tested optimism levels in the subjects those who had listened to the nostalgic song showed higher levels of optimism. Are you seeing a pattern emerge here?

In the final study some subjects were given song lyrics that half of the group had identified as being nostalgic. Some were reading lyrics that had no nostalgic value. When questioned about how they were feeling, those who had been reading nostalgic song lyrics reported higher levels of optimism than those who read more neutral lyrics.

It seems then that nostalgia boosts optimism and optimism has been shown to be correlated with better ageing, better health outcomes, and a generally higher quality of life. Apparently nostalgia is healthy and the researchers think it is because engaging in nostalgia boosts self-esteem and that in turn encourages optimism. Memories of the past can support current feelings of self-worth leading to a brighter perspective on life.

So you don’t need to feel guilty about watching your favourite movie for the 50th time or listening to that band with the appalling hair styles; they might be helping you live more productively in the present.

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Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the editor-in-chief of WellBeing.