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Feeling Happy and Sad at the Same Time

It is said that if you haven’t had Covid yet you probably have no friends. 🙋🏻‍♀️

I have been a low-risk taker during the pandemic. I locked down when there wasn’t even a lockdown. I did not socialize. This week I engaged in more social interaction than I had in the last two years. It was a week dominated by friends and nostalgia. 

The term nostalgia – from the Greek nostos (homecoming) and alga (pain) – was coined in the 17th century when a physician identified the malady, akin to melancholy or homesickness, among Swiss mercenary soldiers. Cures were leeches, warm hypnotic emulsions, purging the stomach or returning home, to the Alps. Nostalgia has come a long way since then.

Finding one definition of nostalgia is challenging because it is poorly understood. All definitions describe a mixture of opposite emotional states, both pleasure and sadness. Although it is a universal emotion, some people are more prone to nostalgia than others. Peak periods of nostalgia are during life transitions, in the late 20s and then again after age 50. Some of us are always transitioning…🙋🏻‍♀️. 

Today social scientists recognize nostalgia as a mostly healthy experience that is both self-focused and social in nature. Memories are not all happy – joy may be mixed with a sense of sadness. Research suggests that nostalgia could be used as an intervention to combat loneliness. Loneliness is on the rise and is a serious mental and physical health risk. Nostalgia can be helpful, even using a nostalgia playlist, to stir up old memories and restore a sense of meaning and social connectedness.

I am feeling nostalgic lately. Triggers are everywhere – a song, a scent, a scent, or a photo. There may be a tinge of sadness but overall it has induced a sense of well-being. There has been a slight uptick in my shopping… which is consistent with studies that show nostalgia is a motive for buying. The marketplace is using nostalgia, offering products that remind us of the past. My nostalgia proneness and a need for uniqueness make me particularly vulnerable to nostalgia branding. They know how to get me! 

A friend’s birthday celebration this week highlighted the power of nostalgia on the human psyche. Ties with close friends were reaffirmed and bonds were renewed with others that I hadn’t seen in decades. The road from barely recognizing each other to completing each other’s sentences in shared stories from the past was short. The durability and intensity of the connection surprised me on one hand and made perfect sense on the other. We were transported back to another life, another reality while maintaining the context of our lives today. 

Nostalgia is not a longing for the past. It is a way to understand ourselves, our choices and our connection with others. It cuts across all cultures and historical time periods. So it is ok to cry when you hear that song – it is a testament to a rich, meaningful, and connected past. 

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