Q: Why is nostalgia such a powerful thing as we get older?
A: Nostalgia is that longing feeling we may have as we look back on memories with fondness. It can often feel like looking back onto the “good old days.” It is not a surprise that this feeling grows as we age, especially in this time when we may feel over stimulated by the current state of the world and our community.
The word nostalgia was coined over 300 years ago and originally meant “homesickness.” Now it has a broader meaning of missing things from the past.
Different things in our environment may trigger feelings of nostalgia. It may be a food, a smell, a location, or even a sound. It may become stronger as we get older and our daily lives are slowing down. This allows more time for thoughtfulness and memories.
My mother recently went to a concert in a park, and someone nearby was smoking a cigar. The friends she was with at the park asked to move away because the smell of the smoke was bothering them. Yet to my mother, this cigar smell triggered memories of her father from when she was young. She felt an urge to stay near the smell because it instantly made her connect with a comfort from her past.
It is common to feel more nostalgic during times of change. A move, a change in employment status, a new marriage in your family or a new baby being born can all trigger memories of the past. Sometimes just being around a newborn baby and cuddling them or smelling their newborn smell can bring up memories of being a young parent.
When there are stressful things around us it can also bring up nostalgic feelings. Currently you may watch the news and feel overwhelmed by the many difficult things you see. Thinking back and remembering when times felt simpler can act like a defense mechanism for our bodies. It helps us remember ourselves and connect with feelings of the past.
Not all memories are good, and some people will experience pain when they think back to their younger selves if they experienced trauma or difficult times. It is important to connect with nostalgia when it brings you comfort, and reframe it or distract from it when it brings you added stress. For example, you may remember not having enough to eat growing up. If you can look on that memory and think about how fortunate you are now and how far your life has come, then it may still bring you comfort and not pain.
Looking back and experiencing a process of life review is a natural part of growing older. As we age, retire, and think about what legacy we will leave behind we naturally look back on our lives. This process helps us to comes to terms with our life and integrate a sense of who we are today.
Share your memories with those around you. Give yourself space to reminisce and reflect. Make a meal that bring up fond memories or watch an old tv show or movie from your youth. Enjoy the comforting feelings they arise in you and lean in to the nostalgia of our lives.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.