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Science Says Nostalgia Keeps You Warm

Think pleasant thoughts about the past and you won't need a sweater

posted by John Stark, December 14, 2012 More by this author

Nostalgic for your youth, a 1950's teenaged couple sharing a float in a diner

John Stark has held top writing and editing positions at such magazines as Cooks' Illustrated, Body + Soul and People. For 14 years, he was a feature writer and movie critic at the San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle.  Follow John on Twitter @jrstark.


Nostalgic for your youth, a 1950's teenaged couple sharing a float in a diner
Hemera Technologies/Ablestock.com/Thinkstock
As someone who’s over the age of 50 I try not to live in the past. We boomers don’t want to be like our grandparents, always talking about the good old days. We want to keep our minds young by mastering the new technologies, seeing the latest films, reading the newest books. We want to remain forever cool.
 
Well, sorry, fellow boomers, but I’m bailing. From now on my thoughts will be focused on happy memories of simpler times, when life was better.
 
Don’t be disappointed with me. I’m just trying to make it through the winter. A just-released study shows that our grandparents were on to something scientists have just discovered: Thinking nostalgic thoughts makes our bodies feel warmer. The findings of this study appeared in the American Psychological Association’s online journal, Emotion.

(More: Model T's: Get on Board for a Trip Back in Time)
 
The study, conducted by a team of English, Chinese and Dutch researchers, consisted of five separate experiments. Four studies involved undergraduates at China’s Sun Yat Sen University. The fifth was done with Dutch volunteers who ranged in age from 12 to 68.
 
For the first experiment, 19 students were asked to make a note of when they felt nostalgic during a 30-day period. When those findings were compared with daily temperatures, the researchers found that the students felt more nostalgic on colder days.

In another experiment, 80 students were asked to recall either a nostalgic or autobiographical event. They were then instructed to put their hands in ice water and keep them there for as long as possible. Those who had just reflected on a nostalgic memory were able to hold out the longest.
 
Songs with lyrics about loss of love also made the subjects feel warmer, though they didn’t have to be from the past. Still, for anyone who can’t get warm this winter, I recommend playing Sinatra’s Only the Lonely album. You’ll be putting on your bathing suit in no time.
 
This study really has me worried about global warming, more so than I have been. Higher temperatures won’t just mean the extinction of beluga whales, emperor penguins and South African quiver trees. If none of us are cold, we won’t be thinking nostalgic thoughts. Happy childhood memories could be wiped out forever.
 
Global warming will prove to be the Grinch who stole Christmas. We won’t be recalling visits to Santa and gift-wrapped presents under the tree. We’ll associate the holidays with the tears we shed after getting something we didn’t like. Or the fight we had with a sibling over who got the bigger slice of fruitcake.
 
Nostalgia is also responsible for the resurgence in popularity of mid-20th-century design, home cooking and Mad Men. Will they be gone, too?
 
And the news keeps getting worse.
 
Another new study out of Sun Yat Sen University shows that feelings of nostalgia are able to “increase self-esteem, boost perceptions of meaning in life and foster a sense of social connectedness.” This, say the authors, translates into a greater inclination to give back to others. “Nostalgia increases empathy-based charitable intentions and behaviors,” study researcher Dr. Tim Wildschut said in a statement published on PhysOrg.com.
 
Without nostalgia it could be curtains for the Salvation Army, Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, to name a few charitable nonprofits.
 
OK, boomers, we know what we need to do. We have never shied away from finding solutions to life’s problems. To keep toasty this winter, help the needy, and save endangered species, we must do what our grandparents did: Keep praising the good old days, no matter how much it bores our kids, grandchildren, friends and anyone else we get into conversations with, like supermarket checkers and bank tellers.
 
So let’s hear it for drive-in movies, hula hoops, A&W root beer served in frosty glass mugs, double features, and Andy Williams Christmas specials ... hey, I'm just getting warmed up!