Can Nostalgia Actually Help Ease Depression?

It's quite common for many of us to associate moments of sadness and distress with depression. The same can happen with nostalgia: It's easy to confuse reminiscing with a sad longing for the past. But new research is now suggesting there are benefits to feeling whimsical about the past, and it turns out all those hours spent clicking through old Facebook photos could be doing you more good than bad...and could even be a foil for depression.
The New York Times explored this notion, talking to Constantine Sedikides, a nostalgia researcher who began a study after trying to explain to a colleague the joy he received from thinking back on his days at Chapel Hill. His colleague believed Sedikides to be depressed, when really he felt it "provided a texture to [his] life and gave [him] strength to move forward.” Research done through his Southampton Nostalgia Scale has shown that "nostalgizing" (a term the scientist created) can be seen in one of two lights: beneficial or harmful. Nostalgia is both bittersweet and painful, but if used correctly, it can drum up feelings of connectedness. The feelings brought on by, say, reminiscing about a failed relationship, are human, and not necessarily negative.
In fact, there are all kinds of beneficial results with nostalgia. Researchers in the Netherlands found that nostalgic patterns increased with melodic sounds, and so did feelings of warmth. Nostalgia helped Chinese-study volunteers feel warmer in cold rooms, which lead researchers to believe the feeling is a tool for survival. Seeing past accomplishments and personal evolution helps put life into perspective, and can highlight why it's so great to be where you are at this very moment. Think of it as seeing your past as your future — you know where you've been and have a sense of where to go.
For depressed people, this is a good thing. It treats the past more as building blocks than pieces of time that can't be reclaimed, and shows a visual history that's tangible — and, as Sedikides believes, betters one's mood. Dr. Routlege, a nostalgia scientist, believes it "Brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives." Which is, apparently, all we are really striving for: Lives that touch others, a trail showing that we were here, and a sense of joy when it comes to the past. (The New York Times)
For more on Constantine Sedikides' study, click here.

Photo: Courtesy of New York Times.

More from Wellness

R29 Original Series