Existential Psychology


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We all know the feeling. Our memories wrap around us like a warm blanket, we are instantly transported backwards, and for a brief time our present disappears, replaced by powerful, pleasant sensations that allow us to relive some of our best experiences. What’s wrong with a little nostalgia once in a while?

From a psychological point of view, probably nothing as long as you don’t use it as a crutch. After all, what would be the point of living if we were unable to remember anything we said or did? But some people feel tempted to spend all their time dwelling in a past that was full of promise, pregnant with possibilities, and above all else connected to life and people.

This is the great danger of nostalgia. Life is change but some can’t accept it and yearn for things to go back to the way they were. They are sure their best times are behind them and find their only real comfort by accessing pleasant memories. There is probably no self-fulfilling prophecy as powerful as the firm belief that your life will never again be as good as it once was.

A helpful metaphor to think about summoning the courage to let go of the past and face the present is the changing seasons. People have their favorites but you can’t really say that one is better than another; they are just different. You can find a lot to like in all of them. The many seasons of your life are the same way, and you miss out on the chance to pull all the good out of the season you are in by spending your time pining after one that is long gone.

If you are fully involved in your present and have hope for your future, there is really nothing wrong with escaping into the past once in awhile to experience the joy of another time and place. When you are grounded in the present the exercise can actually be psychologically beneficial because it drives you to make what you have going on now great too. Whatever season of life you are in is just that, it’s temporary not permanent, and when you can find a way to suck as much joy as you can out of it you will be creating more pleasant memories to feel nostalgic about down the road.