A couple of weeks ago, I was up late because I couldn’t sleep. So naturally, I got on Facebook. I started scrolling through my profile, and before I knew it, I had looked at years of statuses, posts from friends, and photos on my timeline. It was overwhelming to experience all those memories at one time. And when I was finished, I was left with a very strong feeling of nostalgia.
We are all familiar with nostalgia, a deep longing for the past. I remember growing up listening to older adults reminisce about the past and tell me stories about things they did when they were younger. But nostalgia isn’t just for older people anymore. My generation has had an early onset of nostalgia that is starting in the late teens and early twenties. I don’t think previous generations experienced this kind of nostalgia at our age, but if they did, they certainly didn’t voice it the way we do.
Because of new technologies like social media, people my age are not only able to go back and look at memories from their past more easily (which may lead to an increase in nostalgia), but they are also able to voice this nostalgia more freely. And we’ve definitely made some noise. Popular children’s TV channels like Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network have started re-airing shows from the early 90’s in order to appeal to people who grew up during that time and want to re-live those memories. Throwback Thursday is a weekly tradition for many people my age where we post pictures of ourselves with friends from years ago and reminisce.
So for better or for worse, we are surrounded by nostalgia. If you haven’t experienced it yet, I’m sure you will someday soon. Here are a few things that I try to keep in mind when I’m hit with a case of nostalgia.
1. Memory isn’t perfect.
Nostalgia can be positive or negative. You can either reflect happily on good times or miss those good times to the point that it makes you sad. And when you’re forced to re-live unhappy memories, it usually brings up some negative emotions. But it’s important to keep in mind that the way we remember things may not always be exactly correct.
In An Abundance of Katherines, famous young adult author John Green writes, “You don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.” This quote has some truth to it. Our brains aren’t objective video cameras recording the exact details of what happened to us in the past. Our memories are influenced by the way we experienced the event when it happened, and they can also be affected by the way we feel when we’re doing the remembering itself. A fond memory may seem even better than it actually was if you’re remembering it when you’re sad. Our memories are tricky like that.
I am in no way trying to downplay anyone’s memories. We’ve all had some really happy times and some not-so-happy times. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that the good things we remember probably weren’t quite as good as we remember them to be, and the bad things we remember probably weren’t quite as bad. There will always be exceptions. But I know that I personally have a tendency to idealize the past, and I have to remind myself that my memory isn’t perfect. Doing so has helped me avoid some unhealthy nostalgia.
2. That was you.
This one may seem obvious, but when you’re in a state of nostalgia, it actually may be harder to realize than you think. When I was scrolling through my Facebook reading all of the things I said and the things people used to say to me, I felt detached. I felt like I was reading about someone else. I barely remembered a lot of the things I was reading, and it hardly felt like they applied to the person I am today.
But the truth is, that was me. As distant as that time may seem, as different as I may seem now from the person I was then, that was still me. Anything I admire about the person I used to be is still inside of me somewhere. The things I regret are a part of me, too. The relationships I had with people, even if they aren’t maintained anymore, still happened. They still had an effect on me. And they are all still a part of who I am. The same goes for you.
3. You’re not the same.
But on the other hand, there are a lot of differences, too. There is a level of disconnect between who I am now and who I was then, and that’s why I feel somewhat detached from that person when I look back. I don’t look the same. I don’t act the same. I don’t hang out with the same people. My preferences have changed. Even though I’m still the same person, I’ve changed. And so have you. It’s a part of life. As we experience new things, we adjust and we grow. Without that change and growth, we wouldn’t be able to experience nostalgia in the first place.
I think this fact is important to keep in mind becuase it can help release us from our past mistakes. Have we done things we regret? Yes. Should we own up to those things, try to make up for them, and learn from them? Yes. But do we have to live the rest of our lives feeling bad about stupid things we did in the past? No. Not at all. Because we’re not the same. We’re all growing and learning together, and it’s OK that we make mistakes. If we handle them correctly, we can turn them into positive learning experiences and then let them slip into the past as we continue to grow and learn and change.
4. You’re not finished yet.
And that brings me to my last point. Nostalgia is fun sometimes, but it cannot be a way of life. We were meant to live in the here and now, to try to improve ourselves and the world around us. If we allow ourselves to get stuck in the past, then we inhibit ourselves from acting in the present, and we limit what our future can be. No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, you’re not finished yet. There is still more for you to do. Don’t get stuck in nostalgia. Go out and live your life in such a way that when you look back years from now, you’ll have something to be nostalgic about.
I think nostalgia can be healthy. It’s good to remember where you’ve been. It helps you figure out where you need to go. But I’ve learned to be careful about nostalgia, and I try to handle it by keeping these four things in mind. So when I’m looking back, I can remember that things were good, but not so good that I should spend all my time missing them. The things I like about my past self are still there, even if I can’t see them in myself now, and I can bring them back if I choose to. But I am a different person now, so I don’t have to feel bad about mistakes I’ve made (or how obnoxious I was when I was 17). And I always remember that when the time for reminiscing is over, I’ve still got a future ahead of me. There are many more memories to be made. And I can’t wait to be nostalgic about them.