Looking to Our Past: Escapism or Exploration?

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    Did you know that nostalgia can promote healthy coping during difficult times? In a culture focused on progress and futuristic aspirations, why would anyone want to spend time wallowing in nostalgic reverie?  Nostalgia has had a longstanding reputation as a maladaptive preoccupation with the past that can inhibit appreciation of the present, realistic problem solving, and moving forward.

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    To live only in the moment would not only be undesirable, it would not be possible in any meaningful way.  The moments we experience are imbued with the meaning we have accumulated over a lifetime. Parents witnessing their son or daughter receive their college diploma or win a sports award are experiencing the culmination of joys and struggles, milestones and setbacks, admiration and anxiety, and most of all, love.  The meaning of the moment of achievement is rich with all the past that has contributed to it.  The power of the past is not to prevent parent or child from moving forward, but to energise leaping forward into an unknown future.

    By maintaining a relationship with your old self, you can measure your development and sustain a sense of continuity. Since we are living in a time of rapid social and technological change, nostalgia motivates the rehearsal of past experiences that can remind us of our authentic self.  Nostalgia allows us to visit, not remain with, our former self.  Especially during difficult times, reconnecting with our past self can restore the comfort and security we once had.

    Reaching back helps us rediscover the people who became part of who we are today.  Parents, coaches, friends, relatives, religious and social role models all contributed, for better and for worse, to the person we became.  We define our self in part in terms of our relationships. Remembering that we are separate but connected strengthens us for the tough times. In times of disappointment or regret, knowing that people have loved us for who we are reminds us that we are worthy of being loved.