Life is full of change. And hopefully, it involves personal growth in which we learn lessons that help us become better versions of ourselves. But we also want stability. We want to feel like we know who we are and can maintain that core self-concept that defines us. Self-continuity is that feeling of stability. And nostalgia helps us maintain it and restore it when it is threatened. When life feels uncertain or we feel lost in some way, we can turn to nostalgia for guidance. Nostalgic memories help remind us of what is most important in our lives. And this helps us identify and pursue goals that restore self-continuity and, ultimately, the belief that we are living meaningful and agentic lives.
Nostalgia is autobiographical in nature
Nostalgia is a cognitive and emotional experience that involves mentally revisiting personally meaningful past experiences. There are different types of nostalgia but much of it is autobiographical in nature. That is, when we feel nostalgic, we are often thinking about events from our own lives. Nostalgia is also emotionally complex. It often sparks feelings of loss or sadness. But these negative feelings tend to be far outweighed by positive emotions. Nostalgia is also very social. Nearly all nostalgic memories involve experiences with family, friends, and others who have meaningfully impacted our lives. And of course, nostalgia has a cultural dimension in that it typically implicates traditions, rituals, rites of passage, and collective experiences that people find meaningful.
In short, nostalgic memories are about the cherished life experiences that help people create their self-story and position that story within a broader social and cultural story.