Remembering happy days gone by can make our bodies feel warmer, new research has found.
The effect, documented in the journal Emotion, happens when we think of a favorite old song, a pleasant holiday memory, or anything else associated with past happiness. The power of positive thinking may not cure everything, but at least it can help to take the chill off of a winter's night.
“Nostalgia is experienced frequently and virtually by everyone and we know that it can maintain psychological comfort," Tim Wildschut, senior lecturer at the University of Southampton and co-author of the study, was quoted as saying in a press release. "For example, nostalgic reverie can combat loneliness. We wanted to take that a step further and assess whether it can also maintain physiological comfort."
Volunteers from universities in China and the Netherlands took part in the study, which was broken down into five different experiments.
First, Wildschut and his team asked the volunteers to keep an account of their nostalgic feelings over 30 days. Results showed they felt more nostalgic on colder days. The second study put participants in one of three rooms: cold (68˚F), comfortable (75.2˚F) and hot (82.4˚F), and then measured how nostalgic they felt. Participants felt more nostalgic in the cold room than in the comfortable and hot rooms. The volunteers in the comfortable and hot rooms did not differ.
The third study, which was conducted online, used music to evoke nostalgia to see if it was linked to warmth. The participants who said the music made them feel nostalgic also tended to say that the music made them feel physically warmer.
The fourth study tested the effect of nostalgia on physical warmth by placing participants in a cold room and instructing them to recall either a nostalgic or ordinary event from their past. They were then asked to guess the temperature of the room. Those who recalled a nostalgic event perceived the room they were in to be warmer.
Study five again instructed participants to recall either a nostalgic or ordinary event from their past. They then placed their hand in ice-cold water to see how long they could stand it. Findings showed that the volunteers who indulged in nostalgia held their hand in the water for longer.
“Our study has shown that nostalgia serves a homeostaticfunction, allowing the mental simulation of previously enjoyed states, including states of bodily comfort; in this case making us feel warmer or increasing our tolerance of cold," Wildschut said. "More research is now needed to see if nostalgia can combat other forms of physical discomfort, besides low temperature.”