Is nostalgia not healthy

Nostalgia: longing for yesterday

Marketing experts also like to create a "collective nostalgia". It comes from memories shared with a social group. In 2019, economist Marika Dimitriadou from the Business College of Athens and her colleagues demonstrated that this form of nostalgia can increase the preference for domestic (in this case Greek) products. Advertisers could therefore try to use events that have shaped a nation to market domestic and regional goods - such as the fall of the Berlin Wall or the post-war soccer World Cup in 1954.

Watching old television series from your youth on Youtube or Netflix is ​​not a pointless waste of time

The persuasiveness of nostalgia can be problematic especially when it is not about toys or films, but about social views, political ideologies or extremist ideas. The British political scientist Michael Kenny from the University of Cambridge wrote in 2017 that nostalgia is closely linked to populism, which was reflected, for example, in the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump. Exit proponents like Liam Fox and Boris Johnson, according to Kenny, had used the culturally anchored image of Great Britain as a former naval and imperial power, which must now finally be freed from the shackles of a bureaucratic European Union. With a similar message ("Make America great again") Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidential election. And in Germany, too, demonstrators of the Pegida movement are again using terms and slogans from the peaceful revolution of 1989 such as "Monday demonstrations" or "We are the people", only to pursue completely different political goals 30 years later. As the social scientist Anouk Smeekes from the University of Utrecht showed in 2015, Dutch test subjects with greater collective nostalgia actually identified more with their Dutch identity, had a stronger need to protect their nation, and were more prejudiced against other social groups such as immigrants. If someone advertises the »good old days«, we should therefore always think about the motives behind them.

Approach and motivation boost

So while nostalgia can be used for economic, political, and ideological purposes, we shouldn't forget how beneficial it can be at times - and what opportunities it opens up. An interdisciplinary team led by the social scientist Borja Martinovic interviewed Croatians, Serbs and Bosniaks living in Australia who had fled during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s. Those who nostalgically looked back on a common Yugoslav identity had more contact with people of the other ethnic groups and were less likely to blame them for the conflict. Collective nostalgia can therefore possibly lead different groups with a common past to approach each other again.

Such feelings can also help us in everyday work. A team led by behavioral ethicist Marius van Dijke from the Rotterdam School of Business discovered in a series of studies: nostalgia makes it possible to deal better with injustices experienced at work, for example when you feel that your boss is treating you with less sensitivity and respect than other colleagues. By strengthening social solidarity, nostalgia also increases motivation and performance. As two of us (Wildschut and Sedikides) were able to show in experiments in 2018 with a team from the University of Southampton, employees experience their own work as meaningful and profitable again - and think less about a termination. The effect mainly occurred in employees with high scores on a burnout scale.

In gerontology, nostalgic retrospect could also have positive effects. In 2018, health scientists working with Sanda Umar Ismail from the University of the West of England in Bristol provided the first indications that people with dementia benefit from it. Those affected, who were asked to remember a sentimental experience or listen to songs that triggered nostalgia, then felt less lonely, were more optimistic, found their life more meaningful and saw it as a common thread than those in a control group.

What can we do ourselves to benefit from nostalgic feelings in everyday life? We can create them consciously by occasionally letting the music of earlier favorite bands work on us or by looking through old photo albums. This can strengthen us, especially in moments when we are sad, overwhelmed or lonely. Nevertheless, despite all the charm of the past, we must not forget that not everything was better in the past - and we should appreciate what has changed for the better in our lives. In this way, looking into the past, present and future helps us to look towards the future with optimism.