Whether it’s the lazy days of our youth or maybe just that delicious dinner we had last night, humans tend to linger on the past. And, overall, that’s a good thing. Researchers at the University of Southampton proved that nostalgia can counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety; it can make couples feel closer; it makes people more tolerant; it can even physically manifest itself: in cold rooms, people who are intentionally thinking nostalgically tend to feel warmer.
And yet nostalgia is sad just the same. Nothing we enjoy will ever occur again in just the same way. Time passes. Things change. We change. And giving up the past can be hard. Milan Kundera wrote, “The Greek word for ‘return’ is nostos. Algos means ‘suffering.’ So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.” Indeed, nostalgia is a type of suffering, but there’s a sort of happiness to reminiscing on old times. Lest we get cold, have a look at a few things we all wax nostalgic on from time to time:
1. That Trip (You Know the One)
Maybe it was a honeyed weekend in Paris, a memorable summer on the lake, a voyage to the Italian Riviera, or a good old-fashioned American road trip. Whatever it was, there’s always one trip — a handful if we’re lucky — that we look back on and remember fondly and in detail, down to where we ate, the adventures we took, and, importantly, who we were with.
2. Love in the Time of Youth
The awkward glances, the slow hour-and-a-half you spend staring at a movie screen, inching – centimetering, really – your hand towards theirs. The thoughtful movement from first base to second, the innocence before love, the revelation of shared sexual experience — everything was new and it would never be new again.
3. The Variety of School
While some may not exactly miss the boatloads of homework and late night exam revision sessions, here’s the truth: school is actually pretty awesome. If variety is the spice of life then school is just one big, hot Szechuan dish. Between a huge selection of classes (you could theoretically take macroeconomics and pole dancing in the same semester at certain schools) and thousands of young, good-looking, smart people your age, it’s tough not to miss your alma mater at least a little bit.
“He stood at the window of the empty cafe and watched the activities in the square and he said that it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all.” — Cormac McCarthy
We get ourselves in such a rush to grow up that we forget how good we have it. Even now, reading this, you’re the youngest you’ll ever be. As we move throughout life, we become somewhat corrupted, jaded, broken down by tragedies and realities. Although this is part of growing up, often, I find, we long for the ignorance to the world we had and crave a newfound innocence.
Relationships are a bit like the parties you’d get invited to in high school: the kids who were excluded pined to get in, certain that they were missing out; yet everyone in the party sort of just lounged in the corner and only mildly enjoyed themselves. I’m not jumping to get married just yet because although I imagine it will be fantastic, I know the grass is always greener. If you’re single, appreciate it now. It’s likely you’ll miss it once it’s gone.
I for one don’t miss the days where I was entirely dependent on my family. I do, however, miss the age where a serious mistake was just chalked up to “being young.” If we were doing something dumb, our parents would step in and put a rightful stop to it. Now, if I decide to gorge myself on pizza and pass up on doing my work, there’s no Mom or Dad there to whip up a healthy meal and tell me it’s time to be productive. It’s a pleasure to be independent, sure; it’s just that having someone there who’s always looking out for you is a pretty great deal too.
We’re all going to have to wait until the big 65th birthday to see these kind of discounts again. Who doesn’t miss their $8 movie tickets?
8. The ability to Give Our All
Books were once my everything. As soon as I cracked one open I was committed entirely, whisked into a new world to which I wed until that last page was turned. So too with film. Even with relationships. Yet now, with so many experiences and thoughts flying around in our minds, it’s nearly impossible to give anything as full of focus as we once did. Books and film and people are still interesting, but there’s simply too much else going on — or at least we’ve allowed too much else to go on — to be able to give ourselves up as deeply as we once could.
9. The Ones We Love
We don’t say, “I love you” enough. In close relationships it seems implicit so we don’t say anything, figuring that they just know, that it’s all right we take them for granted. Invariably, the sorrowful day comes where we deeply desire to tell them everything, to tell them we love them over and over again to tell them everything they mean to us, and yet, on that day and forever after, we won’t be able to.
10. Our Dreams
“At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
11. Time Marches On
“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on. I hope you never have to think about anything as much as I think about you.” — Jonathan Safran Foer
Time blazes by like a train and nostalgia is merely us remembering the few faces we were able to see.
If this is simply too much, if you’re missing all of these things and have merely grown more depressed, do realize that when we look backwards, we tend to see everything in golden hues. It was Marcel Proust who said, “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” After all, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.