The word was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. Described as a medical condition, a form of melancholy, it became an important word or expression in Romanticism, a style of art, literature, etc., during the late 18th and early 19th centuries that emphasized the imagination and emotions.
Nostalgia can refer to a general interest in the past, personalities and events, especially the "good old days" from one's earlier life. Scientific literature on nostalgia usually refers to nostalgia regarding the personal life and has mainly studied the effects of nostalgia. Smell and touch are strong evokers of nostalgia due to the processing of these stimuli first passing through the amygdala, the emotional seat of the brain. These recollections of our past are usually important events, people we care about, and places where we have spent time. Music and even weather can also be strong triggers of nostalgia.
Nostalgia's definition has changed greatly over time, as it was once considered a medical condition similar to homesickness. Now, however, is considered to be an independent, and even positive emotion that many people experience often. Occasional nostalgia has been found to have many functions, such as improve mood, increase social connectedness, enhance positive self-regard, and provide existential meaning. Although nostalgia is often triggered by negative feelings, it results in increasing one's mood and heightening positive emotions.
Nostalgia is also triggered by feelings of loneliness, but counteracts such feelings with reflections of close relationships. According to one study lonely people often have lesser perceptions of social support which leads to nostalgia, but actually increases perceptions of social support. It's a coping mechanism that helps people to feel better. Studies found that the subjects who thought of nostalgic memories showed greater positive characteristics than those who thought of exciting future experiences. Researchers found that participants who were not exposed to nostalgic experiences reflected a pattern of selfish and self-centered attributes but this effect had weakened and become less powerful among the participants who engaged in nostalgic reflection.
Nostalgia helps increase one's self-esteem and meaning in life by buffering threats to well-being and also by initiating a desire to deal with problems or stress. It also makes people more willing to engage in growth-oriented behaviors and encourages them to view themselves as growth-oriented people. Also, reliving past memories may provide comfort and contribute to mental health. Researchers also looked at the physiological effects thinking about past 'good' memories can have. They found that thinking about the past 'fondly' actually increased perceptions of physical warmth
There is a down side though. Some forms of nostalgia can become a defense mechanism by which people avoid the historical facts.
Closely related to nostalgia is homesickness which is distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home and it consists of preoccupying thoughts of home and attachment objects. Sufferers typically report a combination of depressive and anxious symptoms, withdrawn behavior and difficulty focusing on topics unrelated to home.
In its mild form, homesickness prompts the development of coping skills and motivates healthy attachment behaviors, such as renewing contact with loved ones. While common in nearly everyone, intense homesickness can be painful and debilitating.
Homesickness is an ancient phenomenon, mentioned in both the Old Testament book of Exodus and Psalms. Homer's Odyssey mentions is and the Greek physician Hippocrates believed that homesickness was caused by too much black bile in the blood. Also, there was a time when homesickness was actually though to be caused by a brain lesion!
In recent history homesickness is first mentioned with Swiss people being abroad in Europe. A normal phenomenon among the many Swiss mercenaries serving across Europe, it was not uncommon for them to suffer from homesickness. This phenomenon was first only thought to affect only Swiss people until thinking was revised as a result of a big migration across Europe when it was realized homesickness was common. American history describes experiences of homesickness in colonists, immigrants, gold miners, soldiers, explorers and others spending time away from home.
Homesickness is now known to be a normal thing that reflects the strength of a person's attachment to home, native culture and loved ones, as well as their ability to regulate their emotions and adjust to new situations.
Homesickness is not to be confused with separation anxiety disorder which is characterized by inappropriate and excessive fear or anxiety concerning separation from those to whom the individual is attached.
These days advertisers have figured out how to use nostalgia to sell their products.