The Complexity of Nostalgia

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I woke up, and I wanted to write. I wanted to write about a feeling, an emotion, or maybe even a process that we have experienced at least once in our lives.

I believe there are 3 types of emotions – positive, negative, and these that fall into the strangely confusing in-between, such as love (which is not always positive) jealousy (which is absolutely confusing) and nostalgia (which is a rollercoaster of feelings and emotions).

The word “nostalgia” comes from two Greek roots: nostos, meaning returning home, and algos, meaning longing. Longing and yearning for a home.

A home, that no longer exists, or has never existed, a place in our fantasies, dispersed by our own imaginations. It is a highly romanticized sentiment of loss that can only exists in that long-distance relationship that we create from it.

I could even imagine the physical form of nostalgia – a sad, rejected girl. She reminds me of these complex women, with a really bad reputation, you know, the bad chicks in the movies, who have nice intentions, but nobody wants to face or love them. We could trace how she has been neglected if we just take a glance at the her tainted past:

Despite of her Greek roots, Nostalgia first appeared in Sweden, discovered by Johannes Hofer. In 17th century he wrote his dissertation on ‘the medical disease’ Nostalgia, and that’s how she was seen in the 17th and 18th centuries- as a demonic disease.

In the 19th and early 20th century people were starting to get more modern. Oh wow, nostalgia wasn’t a demonic disease anymore, but a psychiatric disorder with negative symptoms of sadness, anxiety, anorexia and insomnia.

Mid-20th century the disorder was transformed into a psychological malady, labeled as the immigrant psychosis. She was described as causing intense unhappiness.

Now, nostalgia is seen as a condition affecting the marginalized – seamen, soldiers, and, of course, us- students, leaving our home in search of happiness, education and simply said – change.

I strongly believe that our old friend nostalgia doesn’t deserve those claims. As every woman, she has layers, and her most obvious and superficial layer is never her true nature.

Nostalgia is not a disease. Just like any emotion, she helps us to discover ourselves. Improve the way in which we see the world and the way in which we accept our true selves outside of our comfort zone.

I believe that nostalgia is an existential resource – the past making the present meaningful.

Her most obvious negative effects are her superficial layer, her short-term outcome.

Let’s discover together her long-term effects – nostalgia’s driving force when it comes to finding purpose in life.

Nostalgia nurtures exploratory intentions, Researches show, that people who feel nostalgic are more keen to exploration and have a high interest in discovering the unknown.

Also, believe it or not, nostalgia raises optimism. Social experiments show, that people who are nostalgic have more social connectedness, which in turn leads to an augmented self-esteem, which in turn leads to higher optimism. Have you felt nostalgic? Did that lead to seeking socialization? When I moved to the Netherlands nostalgia was a big part of my new beginning. But with time, and with nice people that helped me socialize, I created my new sense of belonging.

Nostalgia boosts creativity and inspiration too. Let’s suppose you are at a new country, but you have skipped the step with socializing and you don’t know what to do. You become more creative, start looking for new, intriguing things to do that boost your inspiration.

All of that leads to the main and most important point – nostalgia as a source of meaning of life. When meaning and purpose are in threat – for example when we start living at a new place, in the case of immigration, we turn to nostalgia. The bittersweet emotion of returning to the past. Looking at the past gives us a sense of significance and purposeful existence. We hold on to these as a signal and motivation that meaning will be found and achieved. So, through nostalgia, we revisit the personal meaning in life, the sweet memories, that give us hope and strength for the future.

Emotions and feeling should not be judged superficially. Just because something is giving us a transitory sense of sadness, or happiness, does not mean that that’s everything that it could give us.

Start thinking about the layers. Start thinking about the long-term effects of emotions, feelings and processes.

Next time nostalgia knocks on your door, don’t hesitate too much about opening it. Take her hand and let her lead you into your new journey- a journey of self-discovery, journey of inspiration and the journey of finding meaning in life.