The Harm of Nostalgia

Like many people, I love to reminisce about good experiences and memories. You know those warm, fuzzy feelings of good times that seem like ages ago but at the same time, they feel like yesterday? This feeling is commonly known as nostalgia.

When I reflect on past experiences, specifically ones that relate to a certain time in my life, I often think of how I should have been more appreciative of those times now that they are gone. However, when I was living those experiences a few years ago, I would do the same thing except with experiences before that. In a few years, I’ll do this again about what I’m doing now and so forth. Why? I think it’s because it’s often comforting to think about experiences that have already happened as we can’t predict the future, so we start skipping down memory lane. Don’t get me wrong, remembering good times can be a great thing, but like anything, it should be done in a balanced way. You don’t want to end up living in the past or wishing that you could go back to your life a year or two ago, because you can develop the feeling of being stuck in your present day.

But what if my life sucks right now?

Sometimes when going through times of crisis, we can’t help but wish to go back to life before certain experiences or events. I’m not going to sit here and tell you to just stop being sad- because the truth is sometimes sadness stays. Maybe the past year has been really rough for you and you’re struggling. You want to go back to the way your life was, but you can’t due to factors beyond your control. Although it may be hard, recalling or emphasizing the little things or little wins that you had throughout the year is much healthier than dwelling on the past. Taking little steps to make yourself happier daily, making a plan to help ensure a brighter future and simply getting through each day are great steps to take. More than anything, think of how resilient you are to get through your difficult times and still be here today. Keep in mind that sometimes the way we look at our past is often not exactly how it went down, so we’re often comparing our present to a romanticized version of our past.

But sometimes I can’t help but think the past was so much better! Why is that?

There’s actually a scientific reason for this feeling called the “fading affect bias”. The fading affect bias is a psychological phenomenon suggesting that humans have the tendency to forget their emotional responses from negative experiences faster than they forget their emotional responses from positive experiences. In other words, we sometimes have the “rose coloured glasses” view of our past because we aren’t accurately remembering each aspect of it.

So, I don’t know what I thought I knew…now what?

Now, I’m not a psychiatrist or therapist by any means, but my advice is to not compare the present version of yourself to one that was living through different experiences, surrounded by different people and who had different priorities. Dwelling on the past can make you lose track of where you are right now and can result in taking your present for granted or missing out on opportunities. Remember the good times you’ve had!  Just do it in a healthy amount because your present and future self is waiting for you to get out there.

 

Source:

Chapter Three - The Fading Affect Bias: Its History, Its Implications, and Its Future