Nostalgia makes for a larger part of our active memory than we would like to believe. There is a certain charm in what has been lost or rushed down the memory lane. The charm works for it can never be retrieved, only can be recreated. And we know that recreation can never be so exact as to reflect the picture exactly as it was. It is wonderful how amazingly unique every moment is, and yet we take time for granted as if it is the same. We humans appreciate things in retrospect. Thus, reminiscing over the lost things is ever an attractive offer. At times, we regret and at other times, we plainly get nostalgic. Let us try and grasp this temptation of living life in a backward gear while trying to move forward.
To be content and happy in the present moment, we necessarily compare this moment with the past. The illusion of going forward is so important and it provides sense to everything we do in life. The present ought to be better than the past, we must keep moving ahead, experiencing more and more. The accumulation of knowledge and wealth must increase with age, otherwise we are visible failures. All the notions attached with progress and better living are fixated on an analysis of our past condition in comparison with our present condition. There are many problems with such a notion. Firstly, isn’t it a bit unfair? I mean we are partial towards our past at times, just because it has slipped away, and we don’t remember the misery it put us through. Everyone can resonate with the phrase ‘the good old days’ and it is not just an obsession of an older generation; in fact, it is recurring in every generation. Surely, the millennials have got their nostalgic 90’s and 2000s where everything made sense and it felt closer to home. This does not account the strong urge that originated in a 90s kid back then to outgrow oneself and experience the big changes with arms open. Things change and that is about it. If we keep on adding value to one, then we are taking away value from another.
Can you recall talking to a parent or a grandparent, and them saying that things have changed so much from the time they were little? As they grew in age and experience, they walked past their era and entered a new one. And this process is not unique to one generation. All of us experience it. From everything that is comforting and meaningful in our infancy to everything new and confusing in adulthood, life comes in a full circle. The attitude that lets us hold on to a familiar past in the form of ‘nostalgia’ somewhere makes us unaccepting of the present. The reason that past seems so charming is because we have dealt with it and came out of it successfully. The present on the other hand, seems like a struggle; it is a puzzle to which we are still finding the pieces. It is impressive as to the level of acceptance we show for a past memory, we do not want to change it, it seems perfect the way it is. Of course, we might have our reservations about somethings but in all, the fact that we cannot make changes to it, even if we badly want to, somehow makes us accept it fully. So, the good or the bad, it doesn’t matter, as we are just reminiscing what has been lost.
As far as the present condition is concerned, we believe that things are in our full control and every moment is a moment of decision. The struggle gets real and there is no acceptance of all the bad things happening to us. It is difficult to not get overwhelmed with life and still maintain a critical lens towards it. And altogether there is a built-in pressure to grow, be productive, make life better than yesterday. So, for instance, if a person earns more today than yesterday, he is considered better off today. Does that mean he was worse off yesterday? What I mean to say is that when we measure progress in a linear manner with limited parameters, it often gives us an incorrect analysis. Let us assume that a person gets richer day by day, starting off from his poor self. That would mean that his life is getting better and better from a ‘financial’ point of view and with a rich standard of living now, he can be regarded as someone ‘successful’ on materialistic grounds. For such a man who is having the best time of his life, nostalgia doesn’t make any sense. Why would he want to remember his old pathetic life? Clearly, there is nothing that makes him long for the good old days. Except, there is. His success would have no meaning without his journey which has a starting point in his poor state. The past still holds importance for the man as it gives depth and meaning to his existence. Life might look progressive at face value but really it is about change. The man in question has changed. Surely, he has more money now but has also lost other simpler things in process. It might be his peace of mind, which being poor he had plenty as there was nothing to lose, but now there is. This is not to say that one cannot look forward to any improvement in life, in fact it suggests that real progress happens when we honor time and seize the day.
Life is unfair and each thing has its price marked. We must lose up some things to gain others. Reminiscing the past is really reminiscing about those lost things which we gave up for becoming our present selves. We know the deal is done and we cannot move backwards in life but that is where nostalgia gets more charming. It creates the illusion of an apparent perfect picture of yesterday as it fills on the empty dissatisfaction of today’s world. It gives a misleading picture of how life was at its best in some distant memory and has ever only led to strange absurdities of the present. One pressing observation is that life doesn’t get easy or difficult, it doesn’t get progressively better; it just changes with you, it becomes different every passing day. So, there is no question of adding value to the past or the present. Objectively, everybody’s past stands as it is, the only thing which adds quality to it is its uniqueness. Somebody’s nostalgia is not everybody’s nostalgia, though there might be a common theme which makes many people nostalgic together. For instance, a song or a melody which teleports our minds to a particular era or place. But the experience of nostalgia is still different for each one of us as the content of it is taken from our lives. It is not just ‘what was’, but also ‘what we were’.
Whenever we provide more value to one part of ourselves over another, we are being unfair. It is not possible to love our bad side just as our good side, but it is possible to accept both. And to know that no period in our life can be marked with just one happy emotion, and that life is a blend of the good, the bad, the chill and the sultry, and so much more; is to realize the significance of every phase of life. It is not crucial to lose some things or some people to start appreciating them more. We can begin today, for it is not a bad idea to reminisce about the past as long as we cherish and respect everything we have today. With each moment passing we are already in the process of losing and gaining. A time will come when things we held dear for life and people, we loved with all our hearts, will take our leave only to never return. And that is what makes the present special. A thing does not have to get lost to hold value. Gratitude can be expressed in this life, which we take so much for granted.
– Tanya Yadav
Picture Credits: whiteswanfoundation.org