Remembering the ’90s Is Good For You
First, the experimenters induced nostalgia by playing hit songs from the past for some people and letting them read lyrics to their favorite songs. Afterward, these people were more likely than a control group to say that they felt “loved” and that “life is worth living.”
Then the researchers tested the effect in the other direction by trying to induce existential angst. They subjected some people to an essay by a supposed Oxford philosopher who wrote that life is meaningless because any single person’s contribution to the world is “paltry, pathetic and pointless.” Readers of the essay became more likely to nostalgize, presumably to ward off Sartrean despair. Moreover, when some people were induced to nostalgia before reading the bleak essay, they were less likely to be convinced by it. The brief stroll down memory lane apparently made life seem worthwhile, at least to the English students in that experiment. (Whether it would work with gloomy French intellectuals remains to be determined.)
The New York Times reportson the science of the internet’s favorite cat toy, nostalgia. A psychologist at the University of Surrey in England says they’ve found that nostalgia surges in young adults, dips in middle age, and increases again in old age, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. But there’s also this unexpected bit, from Constantine Sedikides, a researcher at the University of Southampton in England:
“Many other people,” he explains, “have defined nostalgia as comparing the past with the present and saying, implicitly, that the past was better — ‘Those were the days.’ But that may not be the best way for most people to nostalgize. The comparison will not benefit, say, the elderly in a nursing home who don’t see their future as bright. But if they focus on the past in an existential way — ‘What has my life meant?’ — then they can potentially benefit.”
Dr. Sedikides recommends “regular exercises” of nostalgia. Goes great with your Sunday evening ennui, I’m sure.