Is it healthy to dwell in the past? Up until about 15 years ago most psychologists would have suggested probably not. The habit of living in memory rather than the present, of comparing how things once were with how things are now, was for several centuries thought at best a trait to avoid and at worst a root cause of depressive illness. Nostalgia was the soldiers’ malady – a state of mind that made life in the here and now a debilitating process of yearning for that 5 which had been lost: rose-tinted peace, happiness, loved ones. It had been considered a psychological disorder ever since the term was coined by a 17th-century Swiss army physician who attributed the fragile mental and physical health of some troops to their longing to return home – nostos in Greek, and algos, the pain that attended thoughts of it.
Since the turn of this century, however, things have been looking up for nostalgia. It has become 10 a focus of enquiry in university departments across the globe, a whole new field of academic study that takes in sociology and political science as well as psychology. Some of the research has proved the universality of the feeling itself – a new study shows the commonality of nostalgia effects in 18 countries in five continents. Among the measurable effects, nostalgia is shown to be both a driver of empathy and social connectedness, and a potent internal antidote 15 for loneliness and alienation (a fact which has led to the beginnings of nostalgia-based therapies for illnesses that include clinical depression and perhaps even Alzheimer’s).
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