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Is Too Much Nostalgia Unhealthy?

There comes a point where fondness for the past hinders progress
KGO-TV San Francisco
The classic Windows XP desktop background, first gracing our screens in 2001

I remember the exact day I discovered the wonder of the internet. I was in second grade and sat in my elementary school’s computer lab. We were instructed on how to log in, access Google, and make a slideshow. As soon as I learned the computer could show me anything I could imagine, I was struck by this sense of pure wonder and excitement.

When I got home, I spent hours on my clunky family desktop searching for “pink,” “pink sparkle hearts,” “show me Pikachu,” and “rainbow,” then inserting those wonderful pictures into slideshows that I would present to my younger brother.

I was a kid in the late 2000s- early 2010s, and in those days the internet still felt like a lawless land with endless possibilities. People still had a utopian vision for it, contrasting greatly with how things are now. Social media rose in popularity throughout the 2010s eventually getting to where it is today; being treated like a plague on society that makes us feel more alone.

This pattern repeats itself constantly, both on a personal and societal level. It makes us wonder if everything good is destined to get the joy and innocence sucked out of it. However there is one way guaranteed to preserve that carefree feeling, and that’s nostalgia.

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Nostalgia is a unique feeling due to the tendency of our memories to smooth over the past and leave out negative details. It casts a warm fuzzy glow over the past and briefly brings you back to that moment. When we see nostalgia portrayed visually in media, it resembles the phrase “rose-colored glasses” quite literally.

The collection of vinyl records is one of the most common nostalgia-centered hobbies. (Nathan Copley)

We can also feel semi-nostalgia for times when we weren’t even alive. People dissatisfied with their current lives may look back at past decades and feel like they were born in the wrong generation. This phrase is very common, but after a while becomes an excuse not to engage with the present. If the people from the era you idolize spent all day longing for the past, they wouldn’t have come up with the things that made their time unique.

For example, a fan of rock music may tell you, ” Nothing good has been released since the 90s.” But that person may be surprised how much new music they’d enjoy if they cared to venture out of their comfort zone. If you think about any form of art in this way, don’t be surprised when you find yourself constantly discontent. There’s a limited number of “classics” but the future holds endless possibilities.

This phenomenon doesn’t result from nostalgia on an individual level but does happen due to the nostalgic value placed upon certain things. Even research shows people are willing to pay much higher prices for a product if it’s considered vintage. From time to time, it’s necessary to take a step back and question the impact of nostalgia on your perceptions.

That future of art(music, fashion, any kind of media) may very well take inspiration from the past, and it usually does. But there’s a huge difference between taking aspects of a lifestyle versus trying to adopt it into your whole identity.

Research into cognitive psychology tells us that nostalgia usually has more positive effects than negative. But just like anything that gives us dopamine, it can be addictive. Especially for people who tend to cling to escapism

Crayola crayons: the smell of which summons an essence of nostalgia. (Krissy86 on Pinterest)

What starts as a stroll through memory lane can evolve into an endless tunnel if you aren’t careful. Instead of getting invigorated by the past, you end up with this sense of loneliness and loss. Indulging in nostalgia can trap you, as the glorified version of the past generated by our brains is simply unattainable in real life. That being said, nostalgia can also be used as a method of re-centering your sense of self. If you have the opposite problem from those who fixate on the past, you may benefit from remembering who you were as a kid if you feel unsure of your identity. Looking back on your childhood interests may be a good place to start.

What’s important is to maintain balance in your considerations of the past, present, and future. Nostalgia can be a potent emotion, so let’s treat it with the level of consideration it deserves. Instead of hindering the future, let’s use nostalgia to inspire it.

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