Nostalgia

Essays > Psychology

Marc looks into the phenomenon of nostalgia and what triggers it… and is it a reality, is it a dream, an illusion?

Lao Tzu Gate, Osho Ashram India
“Nostalgia is the longing to go back to the good old days when you were neither good nor old.”¹

Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. The word nostalgia derives from a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning ‘homecoming’, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning ‘pain’ or ‘ache’, and was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. Nostalgia is associated with a yearning for the past, its personalities, and events, especially the ‘good old days’.

Nostalgia’s definition has changed greatly over time. Consistent with its Greek word roots meaning ‘homecoming’ and ‘pain’, nostalgia was for centuries considered a potentially debilitating and sometimes fatal medical condition expressing extreme homesickness. The present modern view is that nostalgia is an independent, and even positive, emotion that many people experience often. Occasional nostalgia has been found to have many functions, such as to improve mood, increase social connectedness, enhance positive self-regard, and provide existential meaning.

Smell and touch strongly evoke nostalgia due to the processing of these stimuli through the amygdala, the emotional seat of the brain. These recollections of one’s past are usually important events, people one cares about, and places where one has spent time. Music and weather can also be strong triggers of nostalgia. Hearing an old song can bring back memories for a person. A song heard once at a specific moment and then not heard again until a far later date will give the listener a sense of nostalgia for the date remembered and events which occurred then.

Although nostalgia is often triggered by negative feelings, it results in one’s mood and emotions becoming more positive, due to feelings of warmth or coping resulting from nostalgic reflections. Nostalgia also sometimes involves memories of people you were close to, and thus it can increase one’s sense of social support and connections. Nostalgia is also triggered specifically by feelings of loneliness, but counteracts such feelings with reflections of close relationships.

It is suggested that reliving past memories may provide comfort and contribute to mental health. One notable recent medical study has looked at the physiological effects thinking about past ‘good’ memories can have. They found that thinking about the past ‘fondly’ actually increased perceptions of physical warmth.

Yet one recent study critiques the idea of nostalgia, which in some forms can become a defense mechanism by which people avoid the historical facts. This study looked at the different portrayals of apartheid in South Africa and argued that nostalgia appears in two ways: ‘restorative nostalgia’ – a wish to return to that past, and ‘reflective nostalgia’ – which is more critically aware.

But is it really psychologically healthy to constantly revisit and live in the past? Isn’t this rather an escape from being aware in the present?

Just looking at the image of the gate to Lao Tzu House (shown above) from Pune 1 days, can bring up nostalgia for the many who visited during that time. So many different memories – of physical beauty, anticipation of a darshan, of holding the hand of a friend, of hugging another, a smile of the gate guard… And yet they are all beautiful illusions of the mind.

Osho emphasises again and again, “Mind is time; the moment there is no mind there is no time. And when there is no time there is no past, no future. Remember, time consists only of past and future: nostalgia for the past and dreams of the future. The present is not part of time at all.” ²

There is no need to avoid looking at pictures from the past, yet there is a need to be aware of the tricks of the mind to try getting out of the present…

Quotes by Osho from
I Am That, Ch 12, Q 3)
Zen: Zest, Zip, Zap and Zing, Ch 10, Q 1

Thanks to Wikipedia

Related discourse by Osho
You don’t know how to live in the present, how can your past be real?

Antar Marc

Marc is an artist, coach, lecturer and writer of essays about topics of general interest.

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