The bittersweet ambiguity of nostalgia

Feeling homesick is typically a recurrent theme in every expat’s life while away in foreign lands. Fond memories of the past, combined with recollections of beloved faces and familiar places, can make the longing for returning home a powerful or even overwhelming emotional experience.

Perhaps the first, and certainly the most well-known, instance of such nostalgia in Western literature is to be found in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. In fact, the very term nostalgia consists of two Homeric words, nóstos ("homecoming") and álgos ("ache").

However, it was only in the late 17th century that the word nostalgia made its appearance, first coined by Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer (1669-1752) in his Basel dissertation to describe a medical condition.

Although nostalgia was in the main associated with certain categories of people like soldiers and travellers, it has always existed in various forms and in many different contexts.

Different cultures have also come up with their own special words in order to better express the intensity of the nostalgic feeling. German romantics employed the term Sehnsucht to signify an intense feeling of longing and yearning, whereas in Portuguese the word Saudade has been used to describe the deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for something or someone absent.

Nostalgia is a rather ambiguous term. Feeling nostalgic can have both positive and negative connotations, as emotions resulting from a nostalgic state can vary from blissful to sorrowful ones.

This depends heavily on one’s character and personality, well as the state of mind he or she is at a given time. For someone prone to melancholy and depression it can easily intensify feelings like sadness or despair.

On the other hand, a nostalgic sentiment can also trigger positive reactions when experienced by people whose temperament is characterised by a high degree of sensitivity.

This is especially true when it comes to artistic creativity: it is often the case that an emotional state akin to nostalgia becomes a source of inspiration that excites the mind and feeds the imagination, thus showing the seeds of artistic creation.

It seems then that it’s up to us to deal with our occasional state of nostalgia more fruitfully. So that there remain not only pain and anguish from the seemingly unbearable sense of loss and longing for things not present, but also sparks of hope and anticipation for things yet to come.

Does nostalgia also affect you personally, and if so, in what way? Feel free to comment and share your own thoughts and experiences!

Mimis Chrysomallis


Mimis Chrysomallis

Freelance writer, music blogger, cinephile, guitar player. I like being in the company of cats and good books.

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