The Nostalgia Problem: let’s stop looking backwards!

We’ve all been there. It’s 2am, you most definitely have to be up in 5 hours for work, and yet you can’t drag yourself away from Facebook.

It began as a casual look through your old profile pictures, just for the craic. Before you know it, you’re back in 2007 again, thinking about old friendships, ex-boyfriends, Leaving Cert exams and your teenage years.

“Life was so much better back then”, you think. “I didn’t know it, but I had it SO good.” And on and on, as you come to the conclusion that your life reached its peak about age 18 when you were at your most skinny/stress-free/goal-oriented.

The thing is though, you’ll probably have this same conversation with yourself in another ten years, as you look back at your twenties and think, “Christ my life was so simple back then… look at how happy I was!”

Nostalgia can be a lovely, fuzzy feeling most of the time. Things like old family pictures and conversations with childhood friends are all positive triggers for it, as we look back on days gone by with rose-tinted glasses.

But when reminiscing turns to envy for your former self, things aren’t quite so simple. Spending too much time thinking about what we “used to be” is simply an interruption of the present. When we berate ourselves for not being as focused as we used to, or not having as much willpower as we used to, or not being as social as we used to, all it leads to is feelings of sadness and low self esteem.

Social media is one of the biggest causes of misplaced nostalgia. Our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (and Bebo, if you’re going back THAT far) accounts are all basically digital diaries and photo albums. It’s easy to spend hours lost in the past, as the present flies by without us even noticing.

What we forget, though, is the hundreds of amazing experiences we have had since those photos were taken or that status was posted. Yes, maybe we’re more stressed out than we used to be, or not QUITE as thin as that 2009 snap taken just after a bad break-up, but does that mean our life is now in a worse place than it was back then?

It’s important to keep in mind that although things might be different now, they are probably better in a lot of ways, too. We might have had our heart broken since then, but we learned about the importance of only staying in a relationship that makes us 100% happy. We might have gained a few pounds, but so what, if they were the result of some great times with friends?

Every “bad” element of our lives has a flip side. It all depends on how you look at things. Try to see yourself as you might when looking back a decade from now. Would you really focus on the temporary lows? Or the work-related stress? No. You’ll probably think, “Wow, I had things so good, and I didn’t even know it.”

So rather than waiting ten years for hindsight to kick in, embrace what you have now and begin to appreciate the present. Forget yesterday, or last month, or last year, and just enjoy today.