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The Surprising Power of Nostalgia

By Dr. Tasha Eurich – Organizational Psychologist and Speaker on Leadership & Teamwork

Leadership keynote Tasha Eurich The Sweeney Agency Speakers Bureau

After a long, scary, and stressful year, let’s take a moment to celebrate that 2020 is finally coming to an end. I’ve been truly inspired by members of our community who have shared your stories and your struggles—and how you’ve found opportunities for growth and renewal against the backdrop of a once-in-a-century pandemic.

And while we’ve blessedly reached the beginning of the end, we have one remaining 2020 hurdle to clear: the holidays. Though we’re used to packing our calendars with parties and gatherings, this year will be more low-key, even a bit lonely. (Example: last week, I celebrated my 40th birthday, not with a fabulous party in the company of my favorite people, but by watching TV in my pajamas!).

How, then, can we protect our well-being during this most unusual holiday season? In addition to setting and enforcing boundaries, as I recently shared with CNN’s Susan Hendricks, I have one more tip that’s best explained through a quick story.

Five years ago, right around the time I’d started working on Insight, I was getting ready to attend a holiday party hosted by an old high school friend. To put it mildly, I hadn’t had the best day.

After spending the week struggling with a few central sections of my book, I’d finally cobbled a few thoughts together. Still worried they weren’t working, I sent them to a friend who works in publishing. About an hour before the party started, I received his feedback—he was even less impressed than I thought he would be.

Slamming my laptop shut, I said out loud to no one, “To hell with it. If I go to this party, at least I can forget about my stupid book for a few hours.”

As I arrived at the warm, cozy restaurant, I was elated to see many familiar faces I had not seen in years. (For context, my high school experience was an uncommonly positive one—luckily, you didn’t get stuffed in lockers for loving school or theater, otherwise I would have really been in trouble). This group of old friends spent the evening reminiscing about our favorite high school memories.

When I returned home, a dull, sweet pang of nostalgia washed over me. Things were so easy back then, I wistfully recalled. But at the same time, I noticed a sense of perspective on my writing struggles. My high school self never shrank in the face of a challenge. Why would my current self be any different? I drifted off that night with a feeling of peaceful resolve, and slept better than I had in a long time.

The next morning, I dragged myself out of bed and, coffee in hand, padded to my office. I felt the same sensation of dread that I’d felt most mornings that week. I will figure this out, I kept repeating to myself.

And just as I was about to fall into another pit of despair, something clicked. Suddenly, I saw the material in a new way that made much, much more sense. By the day’s end, I sent my revisions to my friend to review, and to my utter relief, he loved them.

Reminiscing at that holiday party hadn’t just made me happier—it kept my anxiety at bay and inspired me to tackle a challenge anew.

As it turns out, nostalgia is a powerful tool to beat loneliness, boredom, and existential anxiety (i.e., the 2020 trifecta). Research shows that it also helps us be more optimistic about the future. In one study, when people recalled nostalgic events, they used more optimistic words than they did when remembering ordinary events. What’s more, when we relive positive memories with others, this “collective nostalgia” brings us even closer together.

So this year, especially if you’re not able to be with your loved ones, take some time to relive your best memories of holidays past. Nostalgia gives us meaning. It reminds us of our roots. It gives us hope for a brighter future.

As Queen Elizabeth movingly reminded us back in April, “We should take comfort that…better days will return. We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”


    About Dr. Tasha Eurich

    Tasha Eurich is an organizational psychologist, researcher, and New York Times best-selling author. She’s built a reputation as a fresh, modern voice in the business world by pairing her scientific grounding in human behavior with a pragmatic approach to overcoming challenges. Over her 15-plus-year career, she’s helped thousands of professionals — from Fortune 500 executives to early stage entrepreneurs — improve their self-awareness and success.

    To Learn more about Dr. Tasha Eurich contact [email protected]

    Derek Sweeney is the Director of Speaker Ideas at The Sweeney Agency. www.thesweeneyagency.com. For 15 years Derek has been helping clients find the right Speakers for their events. Derek can be reached at 1-866-727-7555 or [email protected]