Feeling Blue? Consider Turning to Nostalgia


“Living in the past” is usually considered a bad thing, especially for new retirees who are struggling to transition out of their working lives. At Keen Wealth, we’re consistent with our message that seniors should prepare for retirement and look forward to an exciting new chapter, focusing on all the opportunities that retirement can provide.

But Dr. Clay Routledge, a writer and psychological scientist, has found that a bit of nostalgia can be good for you! “Nostalgia is more energizing than previously thought,” Dr. Routledge says. “Recruiting nostalgic memories gives us a sense of social competence, keeps negative feelings at bay, and sustains us in an important way.”

I’d never really thought about nostalgia this way before, and some of Dr. Routledge’s observations might help you adjust your retirement mindset for the better.

Nostalgia can help you cope with major transitions.

Dr. Routledge’s research indicated that there are two major nostalgia spikes in a person’s lifetime, both of which occur during what are usually periods of major change.

The first spike happens in young adulthood. As we leave college, start jobs, move out, get married, have children, and take on new responsibilities, we can find a sense of stability and reassurance by looking back on simpler times.

The second nostalgia spike occurs as we near retirement age. Even seniors who have been preparing for retirement with decades of prudent saving and investing can feel unsettled when they finally retire. With the kids out of the house and no more deadlines at work, retirees often mistake this new phase of their life for an end. They become nostalgic for the responsibilities, and the personal and professional drives, that gave their lives purpose.

This period of nostalgia can be a slippery slope for many seniors, leading to depression and feelings of uselessness. But seniors looking back can also find accomplishment, satisfaction, self-worth, and optimism that can help them transition to a reward mindset, which can be critical to a successful retirement.

Nostalgia can improve your mood.

In fact, Dr. Routledge recommends that seniors who are feeling the blues embrace nostalgia. “Negative states such as sadness, loneliness, and meaninglessness trigger nostalgia,” he writes. “Further, engaging in nostalgia counters these negative states.”

That’s because the memories we return to again and again tend to be ones that are incredibly important to us. Remembering a special family vacation or a big promotion at work makes us happy. So too do the sensory triggers for happy memories, like hearing a song that was playing the night you met your wife or finding your son’s old high school football jersey in a closet.

Nostalgia can be motivating.

So, if a happy memory floats through your head during a down moment, embrace it! Enjoy that positivity!

Then ask yourself if there’s something you can mine from that memory besides pure nostalgia. Why does that memory make you feel good? Because you felt like you were doing work that used your skills and talents? The sense of connection you felt with your friends, family, and community, and the realization that you have lived a full life to date? Are you nostalgic for a time when you were still trying new things and having new experiences?

Tapping into these deeper levels of nostalgia can be a great source of motivation and inspiration for seniors. Remember, retirement is NOT an end, it’s a beginning. This is the perfect time to try a new sport or hobby you never had time to pursue while you were working. If you’re feeling isolated or homebound now that you don’t have to be at the office every day, get out in your community. Volunteer, enjoy parks and other amenities, do some leisurely shopping at local businesses, or start a new business of your own. See the world, or maybe even revisit a location that’s a powerful source of nostalgia.

One final benefit Dr. Routledge found in nostalgia is that it makes us feel young again, full of energy and excitement for what life has to offer. And your life in retirement can offer you a whole lot, especially if you have all your financial resources in place… with a little help from my team at Keen Wealth!

To read more about the positive power of nostalgia, including the research cited in this blog, check out Dr. Clay Routledge’s webpage and this interview.

Bill Keen: Nostalgia can help us feel accomplishment, satisfaction, self-worth, and optimism for the future.

About Bill

Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.

Keen Wealth Advisors is a Registered Investment Adviser. Nothing within this commentary constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Keen Wealth Advisors manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed here. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  

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