NOEL KING, HOST:
You hear this one a lot - what is the point of dwelling on the past when you can't change it?
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
But there's evidence that nostalgia can be a powerful tool for coping with stress. That's why NPR included nostalgia triggers in its online app, The Joy Generator.
KING: The Joy Generator includes sounds that are designed to transport you back in time.
(SOUNDBITE OF WIND CHIMES, CHILDREN CHATTERING, SCHOOL BELL, CAT PURRING, RAIN)
CLAY ROUTLEDGE: A lot of us have kind of a soundtrack to our lives that - you know, they do have this effect of pulling you back into something which gets you thinking.
MARTINEZ: Clay Routledge is a professor at North Dakota State University who has studied nostalgia.
ROUTLEDGE: Nostalgia seems to be one of the psychological resources that we have to help us navigate current challenges and stressors, and also, it helps us plan for the future.
KING: And he found that even painful memories can trigger intensely positive emotions, like this group of older British men and women whose homes were bombed during World War II.
ROUTLEDGE: There's a sense of sadness and loss, but then often they close with, but I'm really grateful. This really taught me something about my life. This reminds me of something important. And, you know, a lot of the things that make life worth living are not purely positive; they're complex. And nostalgia kind of captures that.
MARTINEZ: Nostalgia can also help people feel less isolated.
ROUTLEDGE: You do think of nostalgia as this kind of almost ruminative activity, right? I'm turning inward; I'm thinking about the past. If you're reminded of an old memory, call that person up and say, hey, I just - you know, I was just thinking about you, and revisit that with them.
MARTINEZ: A tool to help us look back in time so we can plan a way forward.
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