On Nostalgia…

It’s no secret… we have the tendency to live either in the past or the future, seldom in the present. Everyone reminds us constantly that we should enjoy the current moment, or at least be mindful of it. Many of our books and movies point to the same message. We nod and agree, then we go back to re-imagining how good it was and envisioning how good it’s going to be.

We miss old friends, and search for new ones. We reminisce about the days when we were younger, and tell ourselves they were much better days.

As I inch towards the end of my 20s, more and more people are getting back in touch. People I once knew and lost touch with are trying to form a connection back to me, and I tend to welcome them back with open arms and a question: “why now?” Often, they are armed with a question in response: “what happened?”

Life is what happens when you’re busy reflecting on the past and making plans for the future.

Why are we nostalgic, and why does this feeling increase as we age?

Have you ever agreed to go for a coffee with an old friend, and found yourself sitting awkwardly with a complete stranger?

How can we miss people that don’t exist anymore?

One theory is: we don’t. We look on the past and assume our nostalgia is being triggered for love of someone. The girl we spent every waking moment with throughout junior high school. The guy who left funny notes in our locker. The teacher who helped us finally see the light. The kids we split a car with at prom. Perhaps we are completely missing the point. The nostalgia is triggered for love of who we were in those moments. That is what we miss most.

Yes, other people were often a significant part of who we were. After all, show me who your friends are and I’ll show you who you are. But reconnecting with these people most likely won’t fill the void or rekindle the fire of a past moment… only you can do that by re-igniting the energy that stemmed from you at that moment.

How we feel at any moment is extremely subjective. A lot of the feeling is triggered by what’s inside us, irrespective of what’s going on outside. Nostalgia is an admission that something about us has changed significantly, and it’s something we cherished deeply. Perhaps that’s what we should reconnect with.

Nostalgia is like a warning sign that we are falling out of touch with ourselves. This does not mean we should not get back in touch with others, but we certainly should not assume that they can help us rekindle the flame inside us. Only we can do that.

Another theory is that we tend to look favourably on the past with rose-tinted glasses, and no longer remember the entire picture. Have you ever experienced the phenomenon of looking at an old photo and thinking “oh! I was so much better looking then!” only to recall that, on the very same day that photo was taken, you said the same thing about an even older photo? We don’t tend to see the beauty in present moments. Our view is often clouded by worries and anxieties. However, when we look back on the past, we filter out the things that went wrong. We don’t remember that we were heartbroken when we took that photo with a beaming smile. We don’t remember that we had just done badly on an exam. We only remember what we want to remember.

And so… we are nostalgic.

The phenomenon of selective memory is arguably to blame for our conviction that the traffic is so much worse now than five years ago. This is the privilege of retrospect.

Five years from today, given more days by God’s grace, you will look back on today with nostalgia. You wouldn’t believe the number of times an old Facebook post that I wrote gave me a future wake up call and reminded me of what I always knew: that the present will inevitably become the past, and that I will miss it fiercely. If this is the truth… why not miss today… today? Make the most of it.

You only have the moment for a moment.

And remember… we design our own luck!


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