Vintage life seems to be all the rage. Whether a Roaring Twenties party, an Art Deco mirror or a vintage record collection, it would appear that nostalgia is here to stay. And according to new research, this yearning for the past increases optimism for the future.
Researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK published a paper about four experiments focusing on nostalgia in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
They note that for a long time throughout history, nostalgia was considered a “doomed state of mind: an escapist reaction to the demands of the present and an anxiety toward the future.”
But their series of studies examines the notion that nostalgia’s focus is not only on the past, but also on the future, resulting in a positive outlook.
Co-author of the study Prof. Tim Wildschut comments on why he and his colleagues decided to focus on this topic:
“Nostalgia is experienced frequently and virtually by everyone, and we know that it can maintain psychological comfort. For example, nostalgic reverie can combat loneliness. We wanted to take that a step further and assess whether it can increase a feeling of optimism about the future.”
For one of the studies, Prof. Wildschut and colleagues asked participants to think about a nostalgic event and write about it.
The team then compared the number of optimistic words in the narratives with those of a control group, which was asked to write about an ordinary event.
They found that the nostalgic stories had a much higher proportion of optimistic phrases, compared with the ordinary narratives.
In another study, the researchers asked participants to listen to either a nostalgic song or a control song. The researchers had previously determined which songs were nostalgic in a pretest, which involved listeners rating the extent to which a song produced nostalgic feelings for them.
The participants who listened to the nostalgic song self-reported higher levels of optimism, compared with the individuals who listened to the control song.
In yet another study, the participants were asked to complete questions about how they felt when presented with nostalgic song lyrics. Here, too, the participants who read the nostalgic lyrics reported higher levels of optimism than those who read other control lyrics.
The researchers say this study establishes that nostalgia “fosters social connectedness, which subsequently increases self-esteem, which then boosts optimism.”
Prof. Wildschut explains their findings further:
“Memories of the past can help to maintain current feelings of self-worth and can contribute to a brighter outlook on the future. Our findings do imply that nostalgia, by promoting optimism, could help individuals cope with psychological adversity.”
So follow a nostalgic blog or mull over hidden treasures at an antique shop. Your level of optimism may receive a boost.
As the researchers write:
“Nostalgia is not just an old, sepia-toned photo, locked in a box. Its power is far-reaching and can brighten up the path ahead.”