Often I find I have a sense of nostalgia for things I've never actually experienced, in a way that rivals the same sort of feelings I have for things I have experienced.

For example when listening to music that was big before one's own generation or seeing old black and white photos of how people lived their lives generations before you were born.

It's an odd feeling I've heard many people talk about, but I've never quite had a word for explaining it.

Is there a term that describes this? Or is it still nostalgia?

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    I've often felt the same lack.
    – Charles
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 19:05
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    I'm not sure that would count as real nostalgia. It sounds more like a desire to connect with the past, particularly a past that you never could have experienced. Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 19:08
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    One thing's for sure: nostalgia ain't what it used to be.
    – Hugo
    Commented Dec 6, 2011 at 22:18
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    Saudade: “The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.”
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 20:35
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    I believe Carly Rae Jepsen describes this in her pop hit "Call Me Maybe" when she sings: "Before you came into my life I missed you so bad, I missed you so, so bad."
    – iglvzx
    Commented Dec 25, 2013 at 17:58

11 Answers 11


I think the word wistful captures that sense of wishing for something, tinged with regret. I'm not sure that nostalgia requires you to have experienced the thing you're missing, but it does require it to be in the past. Wistfulness doesn't - I can feel wistful thinking of something I could be doing, or had once thought I would be doing by now, and neither of those fits nostalgia.

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    +1 because I was thinking of wistfulness before I scrolled down to see your answer. I'm not sure you'd normally be wistful about something in the future that was never in the past though - unless it's a future which the past/present has already ruled out for some reason. On the other hand, nostalgia ain't what it used to be, and probably never could be again. But if you act on your wistfulness you might well (re-)live the actual experience. Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 19:25
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    I suppose that is about right; I mean it doesn't exactly capture the meaning, but with supporting statements that would be a good word to finish the thought with.
    – Jane Panda
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 0:21

There is a term advocated by C.S. Lewis and others that fits the bill: sehnsucht.


I've been known to use this term for its direct meaning as a "longing and nostalgia for a far-off home one has never visited," but it can be inflected or further defined to describe what you mean. So far, it's the most satisfactory English (technically, German) noun I've found to describe this phenomena.


I think "yearning" captures a fair portion of that feeling.


"A persistent, often wistful or melancholy desire; a longing."

"a strong feeling of wishing for something, especially something that you cannot have or get easily"


I would call it longing for a bygone era, but I can't think of a more concise term.

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    How about just "longing"?
    – user7626
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 0:39

No one seems quite sure if nostalgia can be correctly used regarding something you have not personally experienced. I'm going to say that it can, because I have found more than one seemingly respectable source with a definition that does not include that personal experience as a necessary condition for nostalgia.

Cambridge Dictionaries Online: a feeling of pleasure and sometimes slight sadness at the same time as you think about things that happened in the past

Merriam-Webster: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also : something that evokes nostalgia

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    I suppose it would make decent sense to just explicitly state nostalgia being without experience, this I think would be more widely digestible for readers than any lesser known term.
    – Jane Panda
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 14:51
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    @Bob I see your point. I'm resistant, however, to complicate it unnecessarily. Are you saying that, despite these definitions from respected sources, most people expect that nostalgia can only be about something personally experienced? I'm not saying they don't. I just don't know. How do we find that out?
    – sarah
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 6:46

The question reminds me of a theme that Woody Allen explores in his recent film Midnight in Paris. He uses the term "Golden Age Thinking" to describe this kind of nostalgia for a time period that you only know through literature, art & music. As defined in the film, "Golden Age Thinking" is:

"the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one's living in."

and further:

"it is a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present" and that "nostalgia is denial, denial of the painful present."

(quote source: Huffington Post)


How about vicarious nostalgia.

That would be nostalgia experienced through the accounts of others.



Looking at old photos, it's hard not to feel a kind of wanderlust, a pang of nostalgia for times you've never experienced.

-John Koenig, "The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows"

  • This word is a neologism ca 2014. But they all were once, weren't they? Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 20:22

What's wrong with simply saying "unexperienced nostalgia" or nostalgia you've never experienced?

  • This implies that the nostalgia(-like feeling) is not experienced. The question, however, concerns such feelings that are actually experienced; it's just that (unlike in the standard cases of nostalgia) what the feelings are about has never been experienced by the person who has the feeling.
    – jsw29
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 22:45

For some crazy reason - I've always wished it was 1938 again. That blip in time when the Depression was over, we still struggled - but we all did. War wasn't on our horizon yet, and we were all, well... safe. I wouldn't call it an MGM moment, but I wonder if it's close. I yearn for that simpler America -

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    This would make a nice little comment to the question—but it is not an answer. Commented Dec 25, 2013 at 10:45

deja vu is my first thought that came to mind here. dé·jà vu ˌdāZHä ˈvo͞o/ noun 1. a feeling of having already experienced the present situation.

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    Sorry for the downvotes, but dé-jà vu has nothing to do with the question at hand
    – mplungjan
    Commented Dec 25, 2013 at 21:55

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