why nostalgia is bad

Why Nostalgia is Literally Bad For Your Health (And For Storytelling)

It’s no surprise that nostalgia has mostly taken over our society. With the return of Ms. Frizzle to Netflix, people are presumably excited about another trip in the Magic School Bus. In fact, the trailer looks quite decent for a ‘passing of the torch’ type TV show. Of course, there are many perspectives on why nostalgia is bad or why nostalgia is good. You don’t have to go far online to see curmudgeons decry 90’s nostalgia as “useless, soon-to-be-forgotten trash.” On the other hand, nostalgia can have positive psychological effects  on people. According to a study in Psychology Today:

“Nostalgia can play a beneficial role in people’s lives.By focusing on positive times from the past, people may help themselves to be more connected to others, which can give them the resources to be more optimistic about the future.

Still, does that make nostalgia inherently good or does that make it a psychological coping mechanism? In my opinion, it’s more of the latter. Nostalgia is often used as a crutch to let the familiar option prevail. One could easily argue that the political culture wars we are having is a direct result of nostalgia. That’s not to say we should never feel nostalgia, but we shouldn’t give into its worse impulses. This is a prime reason why nostalgia is bad for us, as it takes away our capacity to think.

There’s actually a study from the late 90’s (speaking of nostalgia) that proves this point. In the study, researchers gave residents of New York and Florida glasses of Tropicana and Minute Maid orange juice in a blind taste test. Based on what they grew up with (Tropicana for New Yorkers and Minute Maid for Floridians), participants universally preferred the brand of orange juice they grew up with. That’s not to say that one brand of orange juice is inherently better than the other. But depending on what your taste buds remember is what you prefer.

This is why nostalgia is bad for us, especially in regards to stringent brand loyalty. It’s effects are why TV shows and movies from past eras are constantly being remade. It’s an easy sell and it’s easy to make. But when we romanticize the past, we become stuck in it. We don’t acknowledge the lessons that shows like Friends imparted. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy stories like these. We can and we should. But it does mean that we should acknowledge they have elements that are a bit regressive today.

This not only goes for binge watching TV and politics, but also for our health. In pre-modern times, nostalgia used to be thought of as a mental illness. While that definition may be overblown, nostalgia is proven to stop us from enjoying the present. And for those reasons, I think nostalgia is bad for us as a society and is hindering social progress, even if it can make us feel better.


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