Nostalgia is a human memory phenomenon. Defined as “a wistful affection for the past,” wistful meaning “full of desire tinged with melancholy.” We talk about the past as if it was our high school sweetheart. Even if the sweetheart was not sweet.
That’s usually the case, today is just another departure from the good old days. In a few years are we going to look back on today and forget that we didn’t want to be here? No, you will remember the good of today and exaggerate it until you finally desire it.
An intuitive explanation is the longing for comfort. When things get rough or confusing, we want to go back to the places we know. When you’re climbing the mountain of life and the incline gets steeper, your thighs burn and you wish you were down below on flatland. The imagined flatland of your past. Because even in those old times, you were climbing out of life lessons that strained your muscles just at a different intensity.
Comfort zones kill, we know this. That’s a basic human factoid and yet, we still long to be comfortable. Sure, our brains are designed to self-destruct and that’s why we have all these anxieties about improving and so, we stay the same unaccomplished person forever. Yeah, right! God designed us so I don’t believe that.
Here’s what I do believe, in case you were wondering. Our mind, which is separate from the brain, is looking for something else in the comfort of past. Nostalgia’s appeal is not so much rested in the preference of old times.
Nostalgia’s allure comes from that sense of innocence we had in the past.
Let me explain…
People enjoy accomplishing, it feels great to reach a new goal. It feels even greater when you start out-performing yourself. This requires work, though. Learned work.
When we call upon the marvelous past to return and save us from today, we are missing that new feeling before the work of learning. It feels good to be naive, because you just don’t know. The blissful ignorance of yesterday didn’t reveal to you how exhausting your new job actually is, how wrong your ex was for you, or how sickening your habits would become.
When you get past all of that and it’s time for something new, you cry for a return to a past where you were blind.
We need to stop thinking of emotions as physical places. This phenomenon makes us believe that “easier” old circumstances (which are only easier because you’ve already overcome them) will bring us the excitement we need today. So we go back to the habit, to the ex, back to the job we don’t like, back to comfort zones because we want the bliss of ignorance.
As if that place will take away what we already know and feel. It won’t.
“As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.”
A fool repeats his foolishness, a fool needs to learn the same lesson over again.
A fool steps away the opportunity to move forward.
That’s why nostalgia may even be a defect. A temptation into sin. Your past loves to hold your attention, it’s the devil dancing in the rear view mirror. You’re bound to crash when your eyes are not on what’s above.
Free Solo just aired on NatGeo, the documentary followed a determined Alex Honnold as he prepared for and (spoiler alert) succeeded at climbing El Capitan with no harness, rope or gear. Just his hands and his feet. It took him just over three hours to scale 3,000 feet of vertical rock WITH JUST HIS HANDS AND FEET. If for one moment, he stopped to look down at the rock he already conquered, he would’ve fallen to his death.
Looking back is like looking down. Down at the smaller you. Romanticizing yesterday’s tribulation is the complacent avoidance of reaching new peaks. We may not be naive about the past anymore but we are innocent about tomorrow’s round of difficulty. What we need during a moment of nostalgia is actually the motivation and strength to get through today. Your muscles are stronger and quicker today because of yesterday but they won’t continue to grow unless you look up. Look up at the next challenge.
Looking up is looking at God, it’s saying I can overcome and I will do it again. Because when we look at God, we acknowledge His great path for us and thank Him for His help.
“I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.“