Definition, Perception and Concept of Nostalgia

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Definition, Perception and Concept of Nostalgia essay
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The smell of a candle that reminds you of your grandma’s house. That feeling you get when you look out the window at a rainstorm and think of yourself as a child splashing out in the mud with your polka dot rain boots. Passing an oak tree that reminds you of the one you buried your beloved family dog under. Many things that are seen, heard, smelled, or touched daily can take one back to times only alive in memory. Whether it be a good or bad memory, one can feel a certain longing for the way things used to be. There are personal connotations that can be associated with this word and vary in meaning from person to person. The word for this longing, this feeling of wanting to back to the “good old days,” is nostalgia, and works to evoke emotion and feeling, and is hard to sometimes concretely define.

Nostalgia (used as a noun) is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a “Sentimental longing for or regretful memory of a period of the past, especially in an individual’s own lifetime; (also) sentimental imagining or evocation of a period of the past.” This is a common word, used in many works of literature, and even in every day passing when talking about events or people of the past. Even if the word is not inherently spoken, there could be a nostalgic tone used when talking about a certain subject, or perhaps a faraway look in the speaker’s eyes as they relive the memory they once shared with others. In reality, nostalgia, as both a definable word and a concept, is different for everyone.

There can be a happy connotation to the word, such as in David Garnett’s Pocahontas, “Seeing all these things again filled her heart with that violent sentimental nostalgia…felt by the very young about the very recent past.” (Garnett 234), such as a recently graduated college student remembering their first move-in day. There can also be a negative association with the word, such as stated in the Observer; “Nostalgia for one’s childhood does not necessarily mean that childhood was a happy one.” This means that while there may be an emotion linked to one’s childhood, it may not be a positive one; such as falling off a bike and skinning one’s knee. Interestingly, the etymology of nostalgia is rich and has a unique beginning. The word itself was brought into existence in the late seventeenth century, by a Swiss physician named Johannes Hofer. The word nostalgia is Greek in nature, taking root from the Greek word “nostos,” which means homecoming, and another Greek word, “algos,” which means pain. With these Greek roots, the literal meaning of the word is “painful homecoming.” This relates to other definitions of the word, such as the Miriam-Webster definition being “the state of being homesick; homesickness.”

However, before common knowledge of what the concept of nostalgia was, and before the actual word was brought into existence, it was considered a disease. This “disease” was common among soldiers, as they missed their home life and family while fighting on the front line. The Swiss soldiers were supposedly susceptible to “nostalgia” when a common Swiss milking song was played, as it reminded them of their farming homelands. The playing of this song was subsequently forbidden whenever the soldiers were around. Other than soldiers, there were other people who were also in danger of succumbing to the “disease,” which were younger men and women who had recently left home and their family to go somewhere farther away (Beck).

There were many treatment options available, but the main treatment was either reintroducing the thing, or person, that was taken away to relieve some of the sadness or send that person back to their home, especially if the reason their nostalgia came from being far away from home. Due to the treatment of people who were diagnosed with nostalgia, there were soldiers who “faked” it in order to return home and not be put into a fight. Almost anything was said to be able to cause nostalgia, some examples include love and coming from the mountains. This was beginning to become such a problem, doctors tried to find the “pathological bone” that was the root cause of these problems, but of course, never found it (Beck). As time went on, people began to understand that the feeling of nostalgia was not a disease, but rather a sometimes temporary longing for something that occurred in the past, and the best way to fight this “disease” to keep moving forward.

While medical professionals in the 17th century may have been thought to be on to a scientific breakthrough, many people understand today that nostalgia is not a pathological mental illness, but rather a feeling brought on by different emotions or memories. It can be influenced by thoughts of the past, different senses, certain music, loneliness, meaninglessness, and many other things. While some may be brought down about the ideas of the past, nostalgia has positive outcomes as well. This feeling can give context to the bigger picture and add direction to our lives as well as remembering how good it was in the past, which can subsequently give hope for a better future. It can even bring people together as they remember the good times that were shared and reflect on the strength they carried in trying times.

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While nostalgia is good in some aspects of life, it can also be said to have negative outcomes for people who dwell too much on past circumstances. In other words, people could live too much in the past and not live in the moment. I personally understand this dilemma and am starting to understand the importance of letting the past go, no matter the feeling it gives you when you remember. Being in college, I have been open to so many new opportunities and ideas. When I was in high school, I had a friend with whom I did everything together. We were in the same sports, went to all the dances together, and were at each other’s houses almost every weekend. Every time I think of what we did together, a smile comes to my face because those times were what made my high school experience. Although, the longer I spend away from her, the more I start to realize how different we really are. I am also starting to understand that some of her actions toward me were not always the friendliest and did not have the best intentions.

Once I was able to take that step back, my eyes were able to see the whole picture. While I sometimes find myself longing for the times when we had our group runs on the cross country team and the late-night runs to our local fast food restaurant, I begin to realize how different the world is and how small it seemed back then. It is important that I do not continue to live in the past. We do not always see eye-to-eye anymore, and if we are not able to settle our differences like the young adults that we have become in the months we have been a part, it is best to just let the memories live in the past. Those memories can become a nice thing to come back to occasionally as I sit reminiscing about my “younger years.” This kind of nostalgia brings so many different emotions up for me, personally, that I cannot just see it as a definable word in the dictionary, but rather an abstract concept which seems to change with every person’s thoughts.

With this thought in mind, I decided to conduct an interview in order to gain a broader perspective on what other people think of the word nostalgia. To get this broader perspective, I conducted an in-class interview with my classmate Nicholas Freeze and noticed what he said was quite different than what I was originally thinking of regarding the concept of nostalgia. When asked what he thinks of when he hears the word nostalgic, he links it to going home and returning to his roots. The first thing that comes to his mind would be a shoebox that has old pictures and trinkets in it, that when looked at, evoke memories.

An example of this that he has at his home would be a box of old assignments from high school, and how even returning to visit his school can give him a melancholy sort of feeling. He believes that it is also a hard word to define, but that it is a very emotional word, as while some memories may make a person feel happy, sad, or homesick, sometimes you just feel. Understanding how this word can differ in meanings from person to person has confirmed my idea of how hard it is to concretely define nostalgia, as the concept varies and is quite abstract. Previously touched on was the concept of “living in the past,” which has the capacity to ruin relationships that I have made since coming to college. While I sit back and continue to relay the same stories to every person I come across, I’ll be unable to make new memories. I find myself talking and thinking a lot about my time in high school sports, such as my cross country team. Those were some great years, but not I have to move on and start making new memories with new friends. Nostalgia is good occasionally, possibly while being alone with your thoughts, but it is important to look onwards from there. While remembering these times, there are lessons that can also be learned, and taking those lessons and applying them to the future can help beat nostalgic blues.

In recent times, people have continued to be longing for the time that has passed. It is easy to want things to be back how they were years ago, with the turmoil and confusion of what the world has now become. People take comfort in reliving the past. Nowadays, many of these comforts come from the Hollywood studios paying homage to pop culture of the ’80s and ’90s. In movies and TV shows such as Ready Player One and Stranger Things, which has become popular with viewers both young and old, it is easy to feel nostalgic about a time that has already passed, or that you have not even lived in. In the TV show Stranger Things, the way the show is presented, with nods towards older movies such as Ghostbusters (with the characters Halloween costumes) and Red Dawn (with the paranoia of an impending Soviet invasion), can work to evoke emotion from viewers who lived in that time, which can be different from the emotion viewers who were born in the later generation may feel (Lowry). Even the style of videotaping brings a sense of nostalgia and carries a heavier meaning than the definition can describe. While the younger generation may just think of it as a show they can watch on their phone or tablet, these homages can make people feel comfortable and give them hope, which can sometimes be necessary in these times which some people may refer to as “bleak,” with the recent government shutdown and violence that seems to shake the world. Thoughts of the past can help give hope that circumstances will get better and there is hope for a more positive change, which is another reason why nostalgia is not just a word.

While asking what the word nostalgia means to people in their own personal lives, there are a variety of answers that come about. Some make think of a favorite television show and remember how it made them feel like a child again whenever watching it. Sometimes even hearing the theme song of a said show can bring about these feelings. Personally, I feel nostalgic when I smell a certain substance. When walking through Yankee Candle, the candle scents always take me back to my childhood and remind me of the past. A good example of this would be the vanilla-scented candles, as they smell like my great-grandma’s house during Christmas, and how I spent almost every holiday there until recent years. Another scent that evokes memories would be the lilac scent, as it reminds me of home because we have lilac trees growing out in my yard, and it makes me think of my family and pets who I do not get to see as often. While these scents may be significant to me, they may be insignificant to others because of different personal experiences and what we think of when we think of the past. As previously mentioned, the feeling is different for everyone.

The word nostalgia is bigger than just the word itself and its definition because of the way it allows people to think and feel. As it was different between me and Nicholas, it’s different for other people as well. Nostalgia is not always the same for people, as when thinking about the past, people do not all remember similar situations. In an interview conducted by New Orleans Public Radio, Clay Routledge, a psychology professor from North Dakota State University, talks about how nostalgia differs from person to person and even generation to generation. Routledge says, “And so I feel like this often happens a lot in nostalgia is you really start to get at the core of what people find personally valuable and meaningful.” The core of every person is different, with different feelings and emotions. One starts to understand more about a person when they start to reminisce about what is nostalgic for them. This reflects how nostalgia is much more than a word, as the concept ranges from the dread of remembering traumatic events, to what Routledge describes as “…this experience of triumph, of gratefulness, of thankfulness for these times…” despite the rough experiences that may be happening in the meantime.

Nostalgia, as both a word and a concept, is hard to concretely define without there being some contradiction. It is different for every person and has a different meaning in different areas. Through the many mediums in which this subject has been investigated, whether it is being defined as a word or an emotion, it evokes some sort of feeling. This feeling is sometimes unfamiliar to the person being affected by it. I decidedly believe that rather than being a concept or word, nostalgia is much more a feeling than anything. Whether it is smelling a candle that reminds you of a loved one’s home, or a place that reminds you of what it was like years ago, nostalgia hits everyone. Nostalgia works to evoke emotion and feeling by making a person long for the times only alive in memories and sometimes even wishing to go back to the way things used to be. It is a good thing to remember the past, but it is also important to live in the moment.

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Expert Review
This essay on the concept of nostalgia showcases a commendable exploration of the topic. The author delves into the complexities of nostalgia, effectively blending personal reflections with academic definitions. The essay encompasses a range of perspectives on nostalgia, from historical origins to its portrayal in popular culture. The author's interviews and personal anecdotes provide depth and relatability to the subject. The essay captures the emotional nuances associated with nostalgia and offers insights into its significance for different individuals. The concept's multifaceted nature is effectively conveyed, making the reader contemplate their own experiences with nostalgia.
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What can be improved
Thesis Clarity: Sharpen the essay's focus with a clear introductory thesis statement that outlines the main points you'll be discussing regarding nostalgia's complexities. Structural Cohesion: Organize the essay with distinct sections for historical context, personal experiences, societal impact, and future outlook. This will enhance the readability and flow. Comparative Analysis: Discuss different cultural perspectives on nostalgia to further broaden the exploration of the concept.
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