A couple of centuries ago, nostalgia — the wistful, sentimental yearning for a person close to us, for a significant life event, or for a place important to us — was dubbed a medical disease. In the twentieth century, medical experts listed nostalgia as a psychiatric disorder. Today, spiritual teachers and life coaches cajole us to live in the moment, right now. But guess what? When psychologists induced feelings of nostalgia in a group of volunteers, the volunteers emerged from the exercise with higher self-esteem and an increased sense of being loved and protected by others. Furthermore, the study showed that nostalgia counteracts effects of loneliness by increasing perceptions of social support. The same study found that loneliness can trigger nostalgia and that more resilient people use nostalgia to counter loneliness.
Nostalgia, the researchers say, may provide an important link between our past and our present selves, providing us with a positive view of the past, which in turn can help us find a greater sense of continuity and meaning. As we age, it may acquire an even greater role in our lives, as it may help us to overcome feelings of loneliness and to cope with social isolation. Found in all cultures and among all age groups, nostalgia, the study notes, offers not only insights in psychology, emotion, the self, and our relationships, but it also is emerging as a fundamental human strength. (Association for Psychological Science, December 2008)