“It becomes increasingly easy, as you get older, to drown in nostalgia.” ~Ted Koppel
The problem with life is that it moves faster than many of us are capable of processing. Even worse, the older we get the more severe this phenomenon becomes. No wonder we succumb to the seductive temptress of nostalgia. Webster defines nostalgia as a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. Quite simply, it is a desire to return to the past inspired by fond memories of that time. Is this urge to return to a “simpler” time a healthy emotion or should we dismiss such thoughts and focus on the present.
What inspires nostalgia? Is it merely a discontent with our current situation in the world or is there something more to be gained from it? A common inspiration for nostalgia is music. We hear a song from our past and our thoughts immediately return to that time in our life and its not just limited to music. A cartoon from when we were young. A journal written long ago. A myriad of other doorways to the past have the ability to bring about such fond memories. While it does not take much to arouse this emotion, determining whether such idealism of the past is a good thing is less simple.
A great deal of good has come from feelings of nostalgia. Movies like the Dark Knight would probably never have been created if it were not for the droves of Batman fans who grew up reading the comics. The very act of preserving our history so accurately probably owes some credit to the nostalgia loving historians who dedicate their life to its preservation. Even the traditions passed down from generation to generation that bind many families together can be traced to this concept. However, like most things in life, wistful memories of the past also have their dark side.
The problem with reflecting on our memories is we tend to focus primarily on the high points ignoring the full picture. Take the political discourse of the United States. Often political commentators reminisce on how, by returning to a simpler time, all of our problems will be solved. What they fail to recognize, is that at one time the past was the present complete with its own set of issues, some which are still prevalent today. Furthermore, nostalgia can leave us clinging to ideals that are incompatible to the changes we need to move forward as a society. Something we simply cannot afford.
The difficulties of the present moment, make the appeal of nostalgia all the more prevalent. Returning to a time where everything seemed so much simpler and manageable seems like a perfect solution to the obstacles of today. While there is no harm in embracing these feelings, by exposing others to the magic of our past, we must not allow ourselves to be constantly looking backwards for answers. We must look forward when the the present moment seems unmanageable. Only by acknowledging this truth is it possible to avoid the pitfalls of an over nostalgic approach to the world.