Nostalgia is something we all encounter. Often, other times in our lives seem much more appealing than the present, even though if we think about it there were probably troubles back then, too, along with the good stuff. The recent post-graduate section of life can be particularly dominated by nostalgia. People leaving college, the academic goal since childhood, a definitive finish line of sorts, the joy of accomplishment long on the horizon, and entering a new stage of life, one without cram sessions and reading under trees and meeting people their own age around every corner.
I’ll be a senior next year, graduating a prospect that changes its demeanor in my head on a regular basis, alternately terribly sad and wonderfully exciting. My roommate, who graduated over a year ago now, told me recently of his collegiate nostalgia, brought up by a walk that took him near campus. A bittersweet mix of an emotion, nostalgia is often thought of as an indicator of dissatisfaction in the present, and perhaps even depression. But a fascinating and rejuvenating article in The New York Times says otherwise, deeming nostalgia as an overall positive emotion to engage in, with the ability to instill a long list of fantastic qualities in us. Among nostalgia’s positive traits, the article reads, is the ability to counteract boredom, loneliness, and anxiety, also holding the power to make us feel more hopeful towards the future (one might even call it an-ehem-sustainable emotion in this way). And when you think about it, this really does make sense.
It seems that nostalgia can act in a similar way as a story, and the two are often associated, since people often access nostalgia when telling stories of the past. But even if all of it is just bumbling around in our heads, nostalgia is birthed from experience and story. When we read a good book or see a good movie, we’re able to look at the events and characters from a similar perspective, viewing the story as something that has happened, something outside of ourselves and our present state of being. Although we get emotionally involved and invested in the proceedings, we often wish we could shake the characters and tell them to take or not take some sort of action; it all seems so clear and easy from where we are. But of course, life takes on its truly complex nature when we’re going through it ourselves, which is why one mark of a good book/movie is how effective it is at presenting life with all of its grey area intact. Still, when we look at things from this reflective point of view, events that seemed terrible back then (and effectively were-since that’s how they felt to us) no longer seem like that big of a deal, and the good things that happened take on a truly special nature in a way me might not have fully sensed at the time. This renewable act of vision, I think, heightens both our awareness of the joyful possibilities of life and our ability to recognize and enjoy such smaller moments going forward.
So I’ll try not to worry about missing college as I go through my final year. Instead, I’ll try to focus on recognizing the gift of experience that it is, one that I expect to be emotionally handy for many years to come.
Do you have frequent bouts of nostalgia? What overall effect do you think nostalgia has on you? Feel free to drift off in the comments, preferably including a host of 90’s cartoon references.