Are you letting nostalgia hold you back?

Nostalgia has a way of holding you back.

For retired folks, it’s easy to fall into descriptions of how life ‘used to be’.

Oxford dictionary defines nostalgia as a “sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.”

Nostalgia is usually considered something that happens to older people and to retired people.  They long for the routines involved with going to work, miss their friends at their former workplace, long for the routines involved with going to work, miss having a job title and miss having a sense of purpose.  Conversations often begin with words like “remember when” and then go on to describe past events.

I try to avoid nostalgia in my conversation and in my thinking.  Moreover, I try to avoid people who make a habit of living in the past.

Nostalgia and the past

Were those ‘good old days’ really so good?

thoughts of the past
Thoughts of the past — photo courtesy of AndYaDontStop

Many people — of all ages — find themselves living in the past.

This is particularly true for those who feel that their happiest times occurred when they were younger or when they felt more powerful at the apex of a long career.  It may also be true for those who have lost a partner or spouse and find themselves longing for the intimacy of a relationship gone forever.

Although they sound foolish telling and re-telling stories of past accomplishments and although they may recognize this pattern of behaviour, it is difficult to stop.

Without a reason to move forward in life or to improve their current circumstances, basking in sentimentality and yearning for the ‘old’ times is a strategy for coping.

Nostalgia about the future

People are just as likely to be nostalgic about the future as about the past.

Future nostalgia refers to a longing for some future state and waiting for something that is yet to come.

Nostalgia about the future is not commonly discussed but it is a  behaviour that most of us have engaged in.  We think that better times will come after certain events happen.  

Future nostalgia is a common human reaction. It’s an easy way to cope with uncomfortable circumstances or to avoid making changes.

Nostalgia for the future
Nostalgia for the future — photo courtesy of kelsey_lovefusionphoto

How often have you heard someone say that life will improve after something happens — such as, after graduation from university, after losing 10 pounds, after the kids leave home, after retirement, or after winning the lottery.

Nostalgia about the future may also be a form of escapism especially when daily life feels unpleasant. I confess that I often dream about how much better I will feel once I clear some of the clutter from my house!  This is a form of future nostalgia — or longing for a better time than the present — and, perhaps, avoiding the hard work of sorting and purging.

Future nostalgia may occur because people lack the will to implement dreams or because current circumstances are difficult.

When happiness in the present feels elusive, it is easy to live life in dreams of a better future.

Don’t be held back by nostalgia

The past is over and the future is uncertain.  But there is much happiness to be gained by living successfully now — in the present.

Focusing on the present means less worry about the future and less thinking about the past.

Living life fully is about embracing all that today has to offer.  It means trying to notice the good things that are happening in your immediate experience.  It’s not straight forward as it involves mindfulness.  It takes practise.

Writing this post strengthens my resolve to stop dreaming about a  happier (and less cluttered) future.  It makes me realize how much I can enjoy the things I have and how important it is to stop taking life for granted.  It also makes me determined to keep moving forward.

What about you?  If nostalgia about the past is holding you back or if you find yourself dreaming about a better future, think about changing your perspective to enjoy what you have in the present.

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2 Replies to “Are you letting nostalgia hold you back?”

  1. I used to be “future thinking” but with my body less willing to work for me, I don’t have the ambitions I once had. I have started to live more in the present now that I no longer need to plan for my next work day (teaching takes planning). In fact, I’ve gotten what some might consider just plain lazy…yesterday I spent a ridiculous amount of time just playing games on my computer…a complete waste of time but I enjoyed it. I have given myself permission to let some things go and do what I must …my house is not always as neat as I’d like it but I finished another quest in my game and that was satisfying! Thanks for validating my “waste of time” not thinking about the past or the future (though my husband would probably prefer I thought far enough ahead to plan a better supper).

    1. Jeanette Lewis says: Reply

      It sounds as though you are following an internal direction that allows you to find satisfaction doing the things you enjoy. Spending time doing the things you love to do and the things that bring pleasure is part of the postworksavvy experience. Who says that every day needs to be planned? We did enough planning during our careers. In retirement we need to give ourselves permission to goof off!
      Be well,

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