Nostalgia

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Turns out Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be…

Traditionally associated with wallowing in a rose or even sepia-tinted past; nostalgia has a bad reputation for losing us in misty-eyed escapism to a lost time that never really was.

I’ve always believed nostalgia was a thing to avoid; at best a source of melancholy and at worst downright sadness. But not so according to the New Scientist:

First described by Johannes Hofer in 1688, the word nostalgia comes from the Greek nostros, to return home, and algos, meaning pain. Hofer observed it as a disorder of homesick Swiss mercenaries stationed in Italy and France… a disease which whose symptoms included weeping, fainting, fever and heart palpitations. He advised treatment with laxatives, narcotics, bloodletting or if nothing else worked sending the soldiers home.

As recently as 1938 the New Scientist continues:

It was described in the British Journal of Psychiatry as “immigrant psychosis”: a condition marked by a combination of homesickness, exhaustion and loneliness.

However, in the last two decades nostalgia has been recognised as an emotion found in all cultures; a mix of happiness and longing. Its bittersweet nature is apparently “unique but universal” – and most of us experience it at least once a week!

Why?

One theory the New Scientist offers is that nostalgia gives us a sense of continuity in life: “Nostalgia reminds us we are the same person we were on our seventh birthday party as on our wedding day and at our retirement celebration.” 

It turns out nostalgia is an antidote to loneliness; not its cause. It lifts us when we are feeling down and boosts well-being. 

And it helps you cope… less nostalgic people feel less connected to others, that life has less meaning, are less likely to seek help from others and deal with loneliness less effectively.

Whereas: “reflecting on nostalgic memories boosts optimism and leaves people more inspired to pursue their goals.” Wow! What’s not to like?

Music is a particularly effective summoner of nostalgia by all accounts (explains my blog about Teddy Mac, Alzheimer’s and Sinatra’s: “You make me feel so good”).

So yesterday I tuned into Absolute 80s on the radio for some teenage kicks, and sent my folks some BFI black and white archive videos of our home town. I used to think that sort of thing might drive them to melancholy; not now.

I’m embracing and prescribing a regular dose of nostalgia – rose tinted spectacles all round!

Veni, Vidi, Amici

As I get on in life, I get to spend time with some interesting, clever people. But they can come with sizeable egos. And that can translate into ‘High Status Behaviours’.

That’s not necessarily a problem. ‘Happy High Status’ is feeling good enough about yourself that you can feel relaxed and good about the success and contribution of others. But not everyone manages to keep the ‘Happy’ in High Status.

The alternative is less attractive – being so concerned with your own status that you need everyone else to recognise it. Or worse, to knock down others to assert it. I wonder if there’s a Greek term for that? Narcissism is one.

But whatever you call it, loneliness seems to me to be an inevitable by-product. I think dominant High Status behaviours are completely missing the point of life.

For Aristotle, that central point is to attract and nurture better friends. Friends care for our virtue and excellence, as we care for theirs. The best of friends are the means and end of it all.

But, as Aristotle said:

No one loves the man whom he fears.

He who hath many friends hath none.

No one would choose a friendless existence on condition of having all the other things in the world.

So why do smart, successful, powerful people sometimes behave in ways that seem to get in the way of true friendship?

Seeking power, wealth and acolytes has always been a primal driver. And on the face of it, it helps not to be too sentimental. But an instrumental view of others – that they are means to your end, hammers useful only as long as there is a nail – is missing the point I feel. As Aristotle also said:

My best friend is the man who in wishing me well wishes it for my sake.

Friendship of this type is earned, nurtured and freely given, not bought, demanded or taken. About the best thing in life, I reckon, is true Aristotelian friendship.

A contented ego is a prerequisite, but a conceited, instrumental or selfish one just gets in the way. Friendship, not conquest, is the purpose of the good life.