Why do rainy days make us feel down or nostalgic?
“Rainy days and Mondays always get me down”, sang the Carpenters. Lately I’ve been wondering if there is truth to those lyrics and the countless other songs connecting the weather and emotions.
Have you noticed the weather affects how you feel? Perhaps your mood is lowered or you feel contemplative when it rains? Even before the devastating floods this year, many parts of the country experienced a predicted wet summer and during this time I observed a number of clients bringing the weather into their counselling sessions. They talked about uncharacteristic changes in their internal landscapes, which they put down to the weather. The predominant theme I observed is nostalgia.
Clinical psychologists often view nostalgia (defined by the Oxford dictionary) as a “sentimental longing for the past” – a symptom of depression. However nostalgia also refers to those wistful, sentimental feelings that surface when you recall significant experiences, relationships, places, and other bits of the past which often inspire positive emotions — a sense of meaningfulness or life purpose, social connection, and optimism.
According to Geoff Haddock in, Can Bad Weather Make Us Feel Nostalgic? (Psychology Today, Sept 7, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com › blog › attitude-chec) nostalgia helps increase one’s self-esteem and meaning in life by buffering threats to well-being and also by initiating a desire to deal with problems or stress. Routledge and colleagues found that nostalgia correlates positively with one’s sense of meaning in life. (The past makes the present meaningful: nostalgia as an existential resource, J Pers Soc Psychol 2011 Sept; 101(3): 638-52).
The conversations my clients have had during their sessions have been a mix of the above. Some have talked about times in the past which triggered a connection to positive emotions. Others spoke about the past and their desire to move forward, identifying aspects they have been holding onto which no longer serve them.
In the Handbook of Experimental Existential Psychology, the authors state that nostalgia is a universal experience, concerning all persons, regardless of age, gender, social class, ethnicity, or other social groupings. It is a self-relevant emotion that involves reliving one’s past, and in particular events involving one’s important but bygone relationships. Its bittersweet content notwithstanding, nostalgia is predominantly positive. Most importantly, nostalgia, by being a stock of positive feelings, can ward off external threat or distressing thoughts. Nostalgia serves three core existential functions: self-enhancement, alignment with the cultural worldview, and fostering of close relationships. Successful fulfillment of one or more of these functions contributes to positive affectivity and a state of reassurance, warmth, and security. (Greenberg, J; Koole, S.L & Pyszczynski, T (Eds.), Handbook of Experimental Existential Psychology (pp. 200–214). Guilford Press, 2004. Abstract PsycINFO Database Record © 2017 APA).
Everything a client brings into the counselling room is valuable, including the weather.