Why Do We Feel Nostalgia? The Longing for The Memorable time or An Unpleasant Memory from the Past

Why Do We Feel Nostalgia? The Longing for The Memorable time or An Unpleasant Memory from the Past
By Ahmad Amirali

Today, after a long time, I visited a bookshop, and there I met an old couple who kept talking about how new technology provides new pathways of reading to our new generation. They kept referring their old times when there were no computers and internet, no iPad or Fire tablets but there was a reader’s club in every school and even in offices etc. Somehow their conversation interests me, and I invited myself in. It was nice to see the transition from the old to a new generation and how we all get connected on a certain topic. They share how they both met in a library, and their common urge of reading made a strong knot between them, which is still tied for fifty years. After a healthy discussion, we all walk outside the shop, and they left with a friendly and cheerful look on their face. The impression was likewise for me as well. However, I went back to the shop, and I start thinking about what makes them complain about the present? Why do they feel so nostalgic about their past? Why did they feel nostalgia?

Humans are the remarkable species; they can memorise every incident and event occurred during their lives till their last breath. Even after death, the human mind is capable of remaining some information intact for sometimes. However, there are some grey areas of memory that are not so easily explained. When we think back with affection to our past, perhaps in a moment of sorrow or longing, that emotion can be complex and even painful at times. The classic mention of the “good old days” is essentially saying that the past was better than the present. This emotional stage is called Nostalgia.

The history of that phenomena is coined in 17th CE by the medical student Johannes Hofer, who believe that this phenomenon is the result of severe brain disorder and consider it as a disease after observing the low spirits of Swiss mercenaries fighting in foreign lands. The word itself, nostalgia, comes from Greek nostos means homecoming and algos means ache. Svetlana Boym, a classical researcher, describes in her study, The Future of Nostalgia, the two distinct types of nostalgia: restorative nostalgia and reflective nostalgia. Restorative nostalgia, as Boym describes it, ‘emphasises nostos means returning home and proposes to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps.’ Reflective nostalgia, on the other hand, ‘dwells in algia (aching), in longing and loss, the imperfect process of remembrance’. Both nostalgias have different effects on present human mindset and therefore, not always we find peace and joy while remembering ‘good old days.’ Restorative nostalgia, involving a desire to “rebuild the lost home,” views the past with an eye toward recreating it a desire to relive those special moments.

On the other hand, Reflective nostalgia accepts the fact that the past is, in fact, past, and rather than trying to recreate a special past experience, sooth the emotions evoked by its recollection.  This nod of irretrievability of our historical past provides an aesthetic distance that allows us to enjoy the memory in the same way that we enjoy a movie or a good book.  For example, whenever we hear an old song on the radio whether 1 am or 12 pm, we felt a pleasurable feeling which resonates with our thoughts, resulting in a big smile on our face. This momentary sense of emotional pleasure rather than a restless urge to recreate a special moment from our past is reflective nostalgia.

Asper Boym, the restorative nostalgia is really a kind of homesickness, more similar to the original pathological definition of nostalgia than to our current view of the term.  The pleasurable feeling, which the couple is having in a bookshop, was reflective nostalgia. Rather than pointlessly longing for a youthful day that is decades behind them, never again to be restored, they appreciated the youthful memories that are everlastingly available to them in all its freshness. Since they have no illusions that it still exists anywhere but their happy and rejoiced faces were the evidence that they live these reflective, nostalgic moments each and every day. 😊

So how nostalgic are you now? But before answering that question, think for a moment, are you having reflective nostalgia or restorative nostalgia 😊.

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