When we grow up, we tend to look at the past and long for it back. For example, we 90’s babies sit there and say, ‘I wish Fresh Prince of Bel-Air were still going. All the tv shows are rubbish now!’ Or get nostalgia over Blockbusters and their cheap rentals.
But us looking at the past with these rose coloured glasses isn’t healthy. Today, I will talk about the dangers of nostalgia and why we need to stop romanticising the past.
Why do we do it
Before we can criticise nostalgia and its effects on our mental health, we’ve got to understand why everyone does it.
The first reason is to reminisce about remembering the past and how things used to be. To share memories with others like family and be happy together in something they all know.
For some, nostalgia is about grief. And they are working through the memories of a person, place. And for a sense of purpose or because they’re feeling emotional.
At other times, it will be the oldest generation trying to one-up the current generation. And prove their part of the timeline was better, calmer, and easier to live in than today.
Why nostalgia is bad
Okay, now I’ve provided a cushion. I’m about to sucker punch you with the cold, harsh truth that sometimes, being too nostalgic for the past is terrible. It doesn’t matter if it’s a person, place, or time. Too much nostalgia for something and those rose-tinted glasses can ruin a lot of things.
Trauma/Mental health and nostalgia
Sometimes we get nostalgic about the past more than others because something in our present is so traumatic we want to retreat to a calm place. Something we know we can’t change and something safe at a point in our lives. It takes us out of the present.
However, this retreat to the past can be detrimental. Because we aren’t taking steps to treat the root cause of our trauma, we retreat into the past. The condition is never discussed and never given treatment. So it can get worse and make it harder for you to live your life in the present as you would like to!
On top of that, you can’t plan for the future because you are focusing on the past. You can’t figure out what will truly make you happy!
And it’ll make you long for something you can’t have. And so you are stuck in this circle of opened wounds and unhappiness that will keep getting stronger. You aren’t living in the end, just existing.
Nostalgia and past generations
I mentioned in an earlier paragraph that the older generations use nostalgia to get one up on the youngest. We see it manifest in the boomers against the millennials and gen z’s.
But nostalgia from older generations isn’t just used as an unfair comparison. Still, because our memories can get a bit hazy, plus we are looking through it with a positive lens, we sometimes omit the bad parts about the past.
The omissions of the bad parts can lead to heavy romanticisation that makes everything better than it seems. Nostalgia makes the past seem like the grass is greener, which can gloss over the bad bits which stop us from learning from those parts! It dooms us to repeat the things we are meant to learn from.
Also, it works as a way to silence other people's voices and opinions on the past. Because it doesn’t live up to someone’s nostalgic positivity, and whilst some of this is done to be positive. It creates dishonesty about the past that can be wrong.
Nostalgia and young people
Whilst older generations are known to be sentimental about the past. It also affects the younger generation. This might be due to the older people in their circles and how they talk about history. Or it might just be a consensus among the population.
However, for younger people, it doesn’t just come out as a response to trauma where they want a part of their childhood back! Or stories told by their grandma. It can be caused by a want to experience what other people have experienced or believe that one generation is better than another.
I know I used to do that. I used to listen to music from the 80s, put up with One Direction in the present and say. ‘I was born in the wrong generation. The 80s was better to listen to the music!’
However, it doesn’t show you the true story of living in that place or time. And can make you unhappy with the present and stop you from living in the moment.
It stops you from appreciating what you have now! And it can stop you from looking at media and the world around you critically and simply dismissing things as a sign of the times being wrong.
Nostalgia and loved ones
When we lose a loved one, we tend to look back and share memories as we should. However, because of grief, nostalgia can make us excuse terrible behaviour and glamourise things that typically wouldn’t be okay. And can create a false image of a person.
People also use nostalgia to shut down valid criticism and discussion around actions and people. Leading to trauma, mental health not being addressed, and repeated history.
Ultimately whilst nostalgia can be good for remembering people and places and events, doing too much is unhealthy. And can lead to mental health problems going unaddressed and stop us from living in the moment happily. In the end, be nostalgic but be careful with how sentimental you get!
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