The Surprising Benefits of Nostalgia

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For nearly five centuries, doctors have classified nostalgia as a disease—even a form a psychosis. John Tierney, science columnist for Takeaway partner The New York Times, says that a 17th century Swiss physician first identified nostalgia as a disorder. In the 19th and 20th centuries, as waves of immigrants settled in the United States, doctors called nostalgia "the immigrant psychosis," as new Americans remembered their homes and families in Europe. 

Recent research has shed new light on nostalgia.

"After a decade of study, nostalgia isn't what it used to be — it’s looking a lot better," Tierney writes.

Over the last ten years, Tierney explains, scientists have found that "people who actually indulge in these wistful memories...actually end up feeling more optimistic and more inspired about the future." 

Researchers have found that subjects that wax nostalgic tend to feel a deeper sense of social connection, toleration and generosity. One Chinese scientist even found that nostalgia caused her student subjects to feel warmer. 

"On cold days," Tierney says, "students were more likely to wax nostalgic. And then they did an experiment in the laboratory where they put some people in cool rooms...and some people in warmer rooms, and the people in the cool rooms were more likely to indulge in nostalgia. And when they did, they felt literally warmer."

On The Takeaway, Tierney shares memories that cause his own pangs of nostalgia. He describes how watching soccer reminds him of his childhood, growing up in Chile. "When I see that soccer brings back that feeling of being in third grade," he says.