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Home /Science / What is Nostalgia and why do we crave it?

What is Nostalgia and why do we crave it?

By Dillon Wallace

Maybe it’s a smell? Or a taste? Possibly something tangible like an old toy or stomping grounds? Whatever it is for you, our nostalgic subconscious can be triggered before we even realize what hit us, taking us back to a simpler and sometimes fonder time in our mind.

But what is nostalgia exactly? How did it come to be? Why was it viewed as something bad originally? And why is it so important now that we embrace it now?

Sit back, curl up in a ball and grab your favorite childhood stuffed animal because your mind is about to take a ride back in time.

Nostalgia’s Origins

Back in the 17th century, there was a medical student named Johannes Jofer who coined the term Nostos (meaning homecoming) and Algos (meaning a pain or longing). He had studied a group of ill Swiss mercenaries serving abroad, and he noted that the mercs were being discharged based on physical ailments including fatigue, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, indigestion and more. Only, there didn’t seem to be any external disturbance to cause such affects. Rather, he attributed their conditions as something similar to paranoia, and more specifically a melancholy yearning for a specific object or place – in their case, a desire for their homeland.


Nostalgia the Mental Condition

At that point, Nostos Algos became known as a Swiss condition, that is until migration increased and similar conditions were observed in various groups of people who had been separated from their native place for a long period of time. For nearly three centuries, nostalgia was viewed as a neurological disease and something troubling to undergo. By the 20th century, it was even upgraded to a mental condition similar to depression, and Freudian-esque psychologists penned it as the mind’s unwillingness to let go of childhood, even taking it as far as the desire to return to a fetal state.


A Pleasant Look Back

But, like several other ailments and conditions, all that was really needed was simply more research. And after a few more decades of studying nostalgia and its affects, its perception changed in two huge ways. First, it’s meaning changed from home sickness to a more general yearning for the past. And secondly and more significantly, it was dropped as a disease and became viewed as a pleasant experience.

But why? Well, it’s because people who “suffered” from nostalgia were actually proven to show health-induced benefits, including:

  • A boost in psychological wellbeing
  • Increased feelings of self-esteem
  • A greater sense of self belonging
  • Psychological growth
  • Increased charitable actions


Benefiting On Memories

Psychologists for centuries had seen nostalgia as a cause of mental distress, when all along it had actually been quite the opposite – a restorative way of coping with mental distress and improving personal wellbeing. It became so widely accepted and studied that nostalgia can be seen everywhere by today’s marketing standards. Just take a quick glance at the latest movie releases, band anniversary album tours, throwback fashion and more.


In fact, memories don’t have to simply be associated with vague mental recollections. After all, old photo albums and home videos are great examples of tangible vehicles of nostalgia, but they are in danger of fading from existence. At Southtree, our professionals can digitize your old analog media (pictures, film, audio cassettes and more), converting them to DVD, thumb drive and the cloud, so that your lifetime of nostalgia lasts for generations to come.


While it was once seen as a “condition” of being stuck in the past, research has proven that isn’t what nostalgia is about or how it works. Instead, nostalgia is one of the best personal tools to help us remember that our lives can have meaning and value by giving us the confidence and motivation to face the challenges of the future by embracing the past.

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