Nostalgia does more harm than good

As the years pass and we grow as human beings, the perhaps scary but ever so prevalent trend is made clear: change is imminent. Change is the propeller that keeps life going but change often presents a sense of fear within people. No one wants to lose something good but nothing good lasts forever. Nostalgia is the reminder that we can never get back what we lost, but perhaps that isn’t a bad thing.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nostalgia as “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition,” in layman’s terms, missing a feeling that does not return.

The very concept of nostalgia stems from a chemical reaction in the brain where the memory system and reward systems are reactivated. In doing so, the memory system triggers hormones like serotonin and dopamine that result in joy. Nostalgia brings back happiness, put simply.

Recently, I’ve found myself thinking of nostalgia in a negative manner, a longing for the past that becomes so strong it prevents me from savoring the present. However, the past I remember is never exactly the one I experienced. The tricky part about the feeling is, the past we see is an idealized version of something we want it to be, not reality. The human mind has a tendency to suppress negative memories compared to positive ones and so the memories we associate with certain events are never exactly accurate.

From here, a door opens to a dangerous part of the power of nostalgia. Reminiscing on the past can be so powerful, to the point where it prevents a person from ever enjoying the present. Nostalgia has been such a powerful feeling that in the 17th century, it was considered a demonic possession. Men at war would feel nostalgia for the comfort their home provided them with and nurses and doctors had no idea how to react.

Nostalgia is a feeling we must be careful with. The commonly referred to “funny feeling” has effects that are far from funny, but it is important to remember that nostalgia is simply a reminder that change exists. Change is inevitable and necessary because it allows us to grow and experience life from different perspectives. Nostalgia is necessary because it reminds us of who we are even when we experience change.