Nostalgia received a bad rap for centuries. It was long equated with homesickness, and thus associated with symptoms of grief and depression.
In fact, the term nostalgia was coined by a Swiss physician, Johaness Hofer, in the 17th century to describe the constant yearning of soldiers for their homes and homeland when they were fighting in distant wars. Crying jags, a lack of appetite and an irregular heartbeat were considered the key symptoms of nostalgia during the 17th and 18th centuries. Hofer and other Swiss doctors proposed several explanations for the symptoms: demons in the brain, changes in atmospheric pressure, and — most amusingly — brain damage caused by the constant clanging of cowbells!
By the early 20th century, nostalgia was considered a psychological illness. It expressed, psychiatrists claimed, an unconsciousness desire to return to the past, and was labeled a repressive compulsive disorder. Gradually, however, as research showed that nostalgia occurred among well-functioning adults and in many cultures, mental health professionals began to decouple nostalgia from homesickness. (This history comes from a fascinating review of nostalgia research that appeared in a 2008 issue of the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.)
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