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The Healing Power of Nostalgia

A Timeless Prescription for Feeling Good

Mia West
February 13, 2024
Medically-reviewed and fact checked by Ryan Lester, PA-C

We’ve all experienced the warm and fuzzy feeling of nostalgia. For example, every time I see a 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Fastback it takes me back to the very first car restoration project my father roped me into. I can’t help but smile at how frustrated he must have been trying to convince a 16-year-old teenage girl to focus on a carburetor rather than boys. And, even more so, at how important it was to him to spend time with his daughter. What I wouldn’t do to turn back time and be more present in those moments!

But beyond a sentimental yearning for the past, recent research indicates that nostalgia possesses a remarkable capacity to contribute to overall wellbeing. As society grapples with the fast-paced changes of the present and future, the embrace of nostalgia can be a beacon of hope. 

If you’re someone who still cherishes vinyl or your favorite childhood cereal (I’m looking at you Fruit Loops), here’s how your affinity for the days of old is contributing to a more positive state of being.

The Healing Power of Nostalgia

Researcher Clay Routledge, director of the Human Flourishing Lab at the Archbridge Institute and ​​author of the book, Past Forward: How Nostalgia Can Help You Live a More Meaningful Life, advocates for the therapeutic potential of nostalgia. In his book he says, “If we approach nostalgia with awareness and discernment, we can use our cherished memories to help look outside of ourselves, connect with others, and weave a meaningful life story that supports us through difficult times.”

Studies have illuminated the multifaceted benefits of this emotion, showcasing its ability to help individuals navigate negative feelings by serving as a reminder that not all times have been bleak. This coping mechanism becomes indispensable in the face of life's challenges, as it contributes to emotional resilience and a positive mindset.

Furthermore, nostalgia acts as a powerful antidote to loneliness, an ongoing issue in our modern society. Individuals who experience loneliness often find solace in nostalgic reflections, inspiring them to pursue social goals and reconnect with others. As loneliness diminishes, so does the inclination toward nostalgia, creating a positive feedback loop that enhances overall mental and emotional health. 

In the workplace, nostalgia is a secret weapon against job dissatisfaction and burnout. The emotional resonance of cherished memories lends additional meaning to goals and tasks, reducing the likelihood of individuals abandoning their professional pursuits. This newfound purpose contributes to a more satisfying work life, with individuals motivated by a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Beyond its individual benefits, nostalgia fosters a collective sense of openness to new experiences, ideas, and modes of thinking. This collective openness is crucial for societal progress and innovation. As we navigate an era where technological advancements redefine our daily lives, embracing the positive aspects of the past can serve as a foundation for a harmonious coexistence between tradition and innovation.

A Feel Good Strategy

Amidst the fast-paced changes of the 21st century, our collective desire for a return to values and traditions that are perceived as more wholesome can actually be a powerful strategy. By fostering a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation, we pave the way for a future that acknowledges the importance of both continuity and progress. In essence, nostalgia becomes a guiding force for feeling good.

One notable aspect of nostalgia's healing power is its ability to create a bridge between generations. As individuals share their nostalgic experiences, whether it's reminiscing about classic movies, music, or cultural phenomena, they create connections that transcend age barriers. This intergenerational bonding fosters a sense of unity and understanding, enriching the fabric of society.

Nostalgia's impact is not limited to personal well-being and social connections; it extends its reach to our physical health as well. Studies suggest that engaging in nostalgic reflections can trigger the release of neurochemicals associated with happiness and stress reduction. This natural mood enhancement, akin to the joyous feeling of reuniting with an old friend, contributes to an overall sense of contentment and tranquility.

Incorporating Nostalgia into Daily Life

Given the multiple benefits of nostalgia, it's worthwhile to consider how to intentionally incorporate it into our daily lives. Some practical strategies include:

  • Create Nostalgic Spaces: Surround yourself with elements that evoke cherished memories like vintage decor, a record player, retro video games, old photographs, or a scent that reminds you of a time, person or place.
  • Revisit Hobbies: Rekindle old hobbies or interests that brought you joy in the past. Whether it's picking up a musical instrument, revisiting a favorite book, or braving a pair of rollerskates, reconnecting with these activities can be a fulfilling experience.
  • Celebrate Milestones: Commemorate significant life events or achievements by reflecting on the journey that led you there. Acknowledging the progress and growth over time adds depth to these moments, making them more meaningful.

In a world that often seems to prioritize the new and the novel, nostalgia is a timeless remedy for the human soul. It is a tool that not only helps us navigate the challenges of the present but also bridges the gap between generations and fosters a sense of collective well-being.


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About the Author

Mia West

A former journalist, Mia brings a high energy approach to communications rooted in insights, culture and brand DNA. She is driven by helping brands crystalize their story and foster meaningful, emotional connections with audiences. Over the years she has collaborated with prominent brands such as Petco, Keurig Dr Pepper, Jaguar Land Rover, Revlon, and Procter & Gamble Beauty, as well as many others in the retail, health & wellness, beauty, lifestyle, and sustainability realms. A California native, she lives in San Diego with her family at the beach.

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