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Explanations > Thinking > Nostalgia

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



When we think about the past, especially when talking with old friends and colleagues, it is easy to remember the good times more then the difficult periods.

Nostalgic thinking is pleasant, which is why we do it. By recalling times we were happy, we bring back the happy feelings too, re-experiencing something of that glorious time.

The idea of 'rose-tinted spectacles' suggests how we modify past memories or the associated feelings, making things better than they actually were. We erase bad things and make the good things longer and more intense. We may even fabricate events, from minor enhancements to complete constructions.

The secret with rose-tinting is to then repeat it so often we end up creating false memories and believing they are wholly true. We also socialize them, colliding with others to recreate shared histories.


Our schooldays were seldom often troublesome and plagued with poor teachers, bullies, rampant hormones and fear of leaving home, yet we talk about them as 'the best days of our lives'.

A popular social game is 'remember when' as we take turns in repeating stories of the past.  


The simple reason that we indulge in nostalgia is that it makes us feel good. The past is gone, but if it can be leveraged for today's happiness, then why not? It also helps strengthen social ties and may even help us with esteem.

We all have a deep need for meaning in and of our lives. Nostalgia helps with this as it recalls and restructures the past, building a grand narrative of pleasure and success.

Nostalgia has dangers, as well as benefits. When we block out bad times and reconstruct average events as wonderful, we also change the lessons of the past and may hence have to relearn them. There is also the danger of others not joining in the game and seeing our nostalgia as simple dishonesty or delusional grandeur.

When we assume that the future will be much like the past (as we often do) then nostalgia leads to decisions to repeat past events (such as holidays) and consequently to anticipated pleasure.

Nostalgia is to the past as optimism is to the future. Both frame events as more positive than they actually were or are likely to be.

So what?

Shared memories bring people together, so use 'do you remember when' as a way to build connections and trust.

The rose-tinted element to nostalgia means you can frame many things as more pleasant than they really were, which can be useful if you want to repeat them.

See also

Anticipated Pleasure


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