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Is Nostalgia More Hurtful Than Helpful?


If you’re ever stopped yourself in a moment of a complete gratification and thought to yourself, “I’m going to miss this”, you weren’t just repeating what your parents always told you as they watched you grow up. The bittersweet feeling that comes from a walk down memory lane is very real, especially for college students (whether you’re brand new or set to graduate in May). This strange place in between “real” childhood and “real” adulthood can easily lead us to indulge our nostalgic sides, and there’s nothing wrong with that every once in a while. In fact, it usually makes our day to remember something that once made us happy, whether it’s an old favorite song on the radio or one of the best days of our past captured in a picture we thought had been deleted.

However, these days, it’s hard for nostalgia to catch us by surprise. Part of the appeal of a sudden burst of nostalgia was the unexpectedness of whatever provoked it. You didn’t KNOW that song was going to play next or that someone was going to tell that story, and it made your day. Today, “throwback” culture is fairly prominent, especially online. Re-releasing of older sitcoms, remakes of classic movies and headlines that begin with “remember this??” are quick to catch our attention and excite us. Nostalgia has even been used as a tool for politicians- yes, I’m referring to Donald Trump’s infamous rhetoric of wanting to make America great AGAIN. We use music to trigger our best memories too-  all of us most likely have either come across a throwback playlist on the internet or have made one of our own for long car rides. Everyone loves a good blast from the past, but is too much of this wistful reflection a bad thing?

The sensible answer is yes. There is a difference between looking back on your favorite parts of your past and letting them cause you to wish away what you have now. Part of the danger in this is that some of the stories our nostalgic sides fuss over may not be accurate- not completely, anyway. This comes from classic rosy retrospection. In our minds, memories from the past can appear more perfect than they actually were at the time, simply because they happened during a time in our lives that we want back. It’s no secret that sometimes, what we can’t have anymore is what’s most appealing to us. Don’t let this fool you.

The easier (and more obvious) answer, though, is that an overwhelming desire for the past can make us forget that we haven’t lost what we think we’ve lost. The people who star in your fondest memories still love you, and they want you to succeed. They want you to be happy, and they want you to know that even if you aren’t with them constantly anymore, you can (and will) be happy. We change every day, and we most likely will later find solace and happiness in something we don’t even know exists yet. You live right now, and that time of your life is gone, but parts of it (and people from it) are only a phone call away. Even better, a whole new set of amazing memories are coming. They’re coming a lot sooner than you think. Don’t miss them because you were looking in the wrong direction- backwards.


In short, keep the pictures. Turn on the throwback jams and sing along to them as loudly as you can. Call your friends every once in a while, and yes, remind them of the best days you can remember. But don’t let your past pull you from your present. Take a hint from Ferris Bueller (I couldn’t talk about nostalgia and not mention an 80s movie, now could I?) and remember to stop and look around every once in a while. Before you know it, you’ll be looking back on today… and feeling nostalgic all over again. 


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Lucie (originally from Tulsa, OK) is a fourth-year journalism major at KU. Her favorite things include (but are not limited to) coffee, new music, life in LFK, and every dog in existence (they are all good dogs). While being involved in a handful of student organizations on campus, HerCampus was her first step into campus involvement and she absolutely loves everything it has to offer. She is ecstatic to be HerCampus KU's content copyeditor. 
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