By Patrick O’Sullivan
“You do a good line in nostalgia,” a reader said one time. “Do I?” I asked in reply, not knowing if this was meant as a compliment or otherwise. “You do, and do you know what it is, I’m always the better for reading it,” my companion told me with a smile so that I felt like smiling too.
There are very few topics, very few themes, that have not been the subject of some scientific investigation and nostalgia is no exception. There was a time apparently, centuries ago, when it was very much frowned upon. It must be borne in mind, however, that it had a very different meaning then, describing as it did, a condition which would now be thought of as some form of melancholy or depression.
Today, nostalgia generally refers to remembrance of times past: reminiscences of family and friends, home and holidays, songs and stories and so much more besides. These memories are generally light and positive, though not universally so.
Sometimes they are tinged with some bittersweet emotion of their own, but even then, say researchers, they have the capacity to make life more meaningful for us still.
“When people speak wistfully about the past, they become more optimistic about the future. Nostalgia makes us a bit more human.” This is the latest theory, or one of them at least.