Nostalgia Is a Powerful Motivator

Sometimes the best way to prepare for the future is to get stuck in the past.

Nostalgia is the quintessential bittersweet emotion, but as far as the science is concerned, the sweet seems to outweigh the bitter. Several studies have looked at how nostalgia affects people, and it turns out nostalgia is a vitalizing emotion that sparks optimism and motivation.

When you think about a time in the past you have fond memories of, your brain tends to go through a line of reasoning something like this: hey, things were pretty good back then, so I bet things could be that way again in the future, so I’m going to go make it happen!

Exhibit A is some research published last year looking at how reminiscing about the good times influences people’s subsequent social behavior. In a series of experiments, a team of US and UK psychologists showed that:

  • Nostalgia makes people prioritize relationship-related goals and makes people more optimistic about their ability to meet these kinds of goals.
  • Nostalgia makes people more committed to connecting with their friends.
  • Nostalgia makes people more actively seek out friendships.

Relationships aren’t the only area where nostalgia boosts optimism and motivation. It turns out nostalgia is as good for your health and physical fitness as it is for your friendships and social life.

According to a study published this month in Psychology & Health, nostalgia makes people more optimistic about their health and makes their general attitude to their physical well-being more positive. Even better, it makes them more physically active over the two weeks that follow their bout of bittersweet memories. (The researchers measured physical activity using Fitbits, so you can try this one at home, sort of.)

If that’s not enough to make you want to indulge in some reminiscing, there’s one more practical benefit of nostalgia you should know about: nostalgia protects against the cold.

I mean that literally, by the way. People who’ve just experienced nostalgia feel warmer, estimate the temperature as higher, and are more tolerant of severe cold. According to the authors of the study, and I quote, nostalgia has a “heartwarming” effect. Interestingly, being cold also triggers feelings of nostalgia. Maybe that’s why I get all sentimental whenever I watch the snow fall?

So nostalgia makes you more optimistic and proactive in the way you approach your relationships and your health, and as an added benefit it will save you money on winter clothing. What’s not to like? There are few things more important in life than good friends, good health, and making sure you don’t freeze your butt off.

Image: shpeizer