Why We Feel Nostalgia


Jacob Blauvelt, Reporter

With the composition of a human body constantly changing, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what a person is. That is why the question of “what is a person?” is so intriguing and complex. There is no consistency. Nostalgia, fondly remembering the past, what you used to do and who you used to be might simply be a way for your brain to answer that question. People move on in their lives, finding different friends, different behaviors, different moods, different tastes all the time.

Nostalgia was originally seen as a very serious medical condition, affecting soldiers who missed home so much that they broke down and were unable to fulfill their duties. The only cure at the time was to be sent home. This is because nostalgia is really all about you; your memories, your past, who you used to be and consequently who you are now. Which makes nostalgia an often-healthy way to answer the question. . . Who am I? Well, you’re a person who remembers specific events in the past. You existed in the past and are a continuous being.

A popular theory argues that the psychological effects of nostalgia, connecting with your younger self, your inner child, and building a continuous identity, are advantageous. So, we are naturally selected to be rewarding experiences. You change your habits, friends, jobs, learn new things and forget others, but nostalgia allows you to connect all those events. This is especially helpful during times of major life transitions, like entering adulthood or aging, when studies show that nostalgia is at its strongest. However, if lining every experience up into a continuous story is so advantageous, why don’t we feel nostalgic for everything that has happened to us? The Lifespan Retrieval Curve (LSRC) may have an explanation.

The LSRC is an average plot of distinct autobiographical memories and reveals what is called the reminiscence bump. A time between fifteen and thirty years of age, where more memories are encoded in your brain. During this time in your life, it is thought to be very important because it is linked to the formation of our self-identities. Memories formed during this period tend to be the ones we are most nostalgic for and because we want our continuous identities to be positive, we are usually nostalgic for good memories, rather than bad ones. Individually and collectively, we also tend to be nostalgic and reminisce on things as if they were better than at the time they really were.

Music doesn’t have to bring up old memories or make you feel nostalgia in order to help you build an identity, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t. A few simple words can bring you back to a time in your life that you may miss or even just a simple tune. A few examples could be “Young, Wild & Free (feat. Bruno Mars)” by Snoop Dog and Wiz Khalifa, “How to Love” by Lil Wayne, and “We Are Young” by fun. Although experts are still not sure why music makes people want to move, the impulse one has to tap their foot, bob their head, or dance when they hear a rhythm might have less to do with the behavior they have learned and more to do with their internal desire to fit in. Music has the power to conjure up all kinds of other emotions when we hear it. A major reason for this is the fact that, like our sense of smell, music is initially processed in the same regions of the brain that process memories and emotion, like the amygdala.

So, maybe those are the answers – memories. A person might not have the same friends, job, house, and body composition throughout your life, but they do have the same memories, so are people just memories? There is a slight issue with this question as memory loss doesn’t make someone a whole new person, also there is the problem of false memories. But if a person falsely remembers something that doesn’t make them wrong, it just makes them different. Nostalgia is just a concept, but these feelings are what make people unique, as nobody else has the same nostalgic feelings.