Is Old Always Gold? The Odd Comfort Of Nostalgia | Teen Ink

Is Old Always Gold? The Odd Comfort Of Nostalgia

September 9, 2023
By tosh2024 BRONZE, Mumbai, Other
tosh2024 BRONZE, Mumbai, Other
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
I am out with lanterns looking for myself - Emily Dickinson

While cleaning out my digital storage the other day, I happened to chance upon my old playlist from the 2010’s. Naturally, it had a healthy dose of Katy Perry, featured Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars a minimum of five times and, of course, Barbie Girl by Aqua. Almost mechanically, I played these forgotten songs once again which prompted this feeling of both an unmistakable joy and unavoidable sadness simultaneously and all of a sudden - nostalgia. And that got me thinking, why do we even feel nostalgic in the first place?

Nostalgia is derived from the Greek words for pain, ‘algos’ and ‘to return home’ or ‘nostos’ and was often a term used  synonymously with homesickness during the mid-18th century. Since then, the word has come to represent an emotion, often bittersweet, as it describes both the happiness of remembering the past, but also the fact that one cannot experience it again. However, this specific emotion is not just one that helps people create stronger social connections, it has even been proven to be a sort of rebooting of our brain to overcome bouts of sadness, loneliness or even listlessness. In fact, because nostalgia was often experienced alongside these negative mental states, it used to hold the identification of a disorder in itself - when first observed in Swiss mercenary soldiers who had been away from their families during war in the 17th and 18th centuries. 

But, a lot has changed since then.

Now, psychologists are beginning to shine a different light on nostalgia - it has been evidenced to be quite an effective remedy for when we are feeling our lowest. Dr. Krystine Batcho — professor of psychology at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, NY has said, when talking to the American Psychological Association about this intriguing phenomenon,” nostalgia is an emotional experience that unifies,” that “helps unite our sense of who we are, our self, our identity over time,” and “gives us a sense of who we want to be […] in the future.” 

You must have even experienced this yourself - look back at a time when you have felt stressed, overwhelmed or pressured by something happening in the present or even the future. You browse through your photo gallery from over a year ago, re-watch your favourite childhood TV show, or reminisce over school memories with an old friend. There is this intangible comfort in revisiting something happy or joyful in the past, something you can reach for nestling in the corner of your brain to reinforce what has made you, well you. While it feels like any other emotion, nostalgia is in reality quite different : it is a complex cognitive process your brain initiates to get you through a tough time, almost like an emotional first aid kit.

But is nostalgia always helpful?

Nostalgia usually elevates your social self along with helping you manage your moods - if you are extroverted, looking back at fond memories with your friends will inspire you to call for a brunch to catch up with them, i.e. it encourages social behaviour. However, if you don’t depend on social relationships to that extent in the first place, the feeling of nostalgia emphasises self-isolating behaviour even more. Also, nostalgia never erases feelings of sadness or melancholy completely - it only dampens them. So it cannot be relied upon as a replacement for therapy or any other treatments, as much as old movies like Clueless or Mamma Mia may try!

You may have also noticed that when you revisit the past, somehow, everything seemed better. Maybe you only see the fun vacations you went on with your best friend, but don’t remember the three weeks you fought with them right after. You view the past wearing rose-tinted glasses. Now this isn’t always a bad thing, but this effect does have a tendency to translate into feeling less optimistic about the future in comparison, which can birth a vicious cycle of feeling lost or hopeless. That’s why it is really important to identify this bias when sifting through our memory and ensure it doesn’t cloud our judgement.  For example,  we can stay enamoured by the launch of the first IPod but also need to recollect when the Great Recession reared its ugly head back in the 2000’s. 

Nostalgia is something so innate in our psyche that all of us have and will experience it in our lifetime multiple times. While it does remain to be cognitive aspect of our biology, it feels so much more soulful and transcendent than just a psychological process most times. Ottessa Moshfegh really beautifully sums it up, “and suddenly I wanted to go back and be in all the places I’d ever been, every street I’d walked down, every room I’d sat down in. I wanted to see it all again. I tried to remember my life, flipping through Polaroids in my mind… But I knew that even if I could go back, if such a thing were possible with exactitude, in life or in dreams, there was really no point.”

Writer’s Note : If you want to feel particularly nostalgic today, type out a website on and click on a year in which you would like to see how the page looked like (eg Google, YouTube, The New York Times in 2011). Happy reminiscing!

The author's comments:

Toshani Dutta is currently a senior studying in Mumbai, India. Having always been a creative at heart, she adores almost every medium of expression out there - from ballet and pottery, to photography and art. She adores delving into pop-culture topics while interweaving snack-able portions of psychology through them.

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