Today I Am Nostalgic

It has been over a year now since he told me that I am living in the past, a place and time that no longer exist, a place and time that I should forget and never look back. Given the nature and intensity of our relationship, it seemed impossible for me to do so then (maybe a bit more probable now but not any easier still) and a major cause of the pain the whole experience brought me comes from the fact that moving on appeared to have been like child’s play to him. I mean come on, first he made me feel like the most special woman in the world, and then he simply and irrevocably discarded me, making me feel so replaceable.

Needless to say, being stuck makes me feel pathetic, like sick even!

Consider the past. It’s something we’re told not to dwell on, but research makes it clear that thinking in the past tense can lead to a greater understanding of ourselves. For instance, nostalgia – contemplating and sometimes aching for the past – was once considered a pathology, an impairment that diverted us from current goals. Scholars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries thought it was a physical ailment – “a cerebral disease of essentially demonic cause” spurred by “the quite continuous vibrations of animal spirits through [the] fibers of the middle brain.” Others believed nostalgia was caused by changes in atmospheric pressure or “an oversupply of black bile in the blood” or was perhaps an affliction unique to the Swiss. By the nineteenth century, those ideas were discarded, but the pathologizing of nostalgia was not. Scholars and physicians of that era believed it was a mental dysfunction, a psychiatric disorder connected to psychosis, compulsion, and Oedipal yearnings.

Today, thanks to the work of psychologist Constantine Sedikides of the University of Southampton and others, nostalgia has been redeemed. Sedikides calls it “a vital intrapersonal resource that contributes to psychological equanimity… a repository of psychological sustenance.” The benefits of thinking fondly about the past are vast because nostalgia delivers two ingredients essential to well-being: a sense of meaning and a connection to others. When we think nostalgically, we often feature ourselves as the protagonist in a momentous event (a wedding or a graduation, for instance) that involves the people we care about most deeply. Nostalgia, research shows, can foster positive mood, protect against anxiety and stress, and boost creativity. It can heighten optimism, deepen empathy, and alleviate boredom. Nostalgia can increase psychological feelings of comfort and warmth. We’re more likely to feel nostalgic on chillier days. And when experimenters induce nostalgia – through music or smell, for instance – people are more tolerant of cold and perceive the temperature to be higher.

Like poignancy, nostalgia is a “bittersweet but predominantly positive and fundamentally social emotion.” Thinking in the past tense offers “a window into the intrinsic self,” a portal to who we really are. It makes the present meaningful.

Daniel H. Pink – When

I take everything I read with a grain of salt. However, this one particular piece about nostalgia is definitely something I would like to strongly (and desperately) believe in. It gives me hope. That I am not entirely lost and maybe someday, I will live in the present again, which is so much better than the past. For now, I will try to turn things around. Instead of thinking about what my life could have been if the pandemic is naught (today should have been our 37th monthsary), I will be grateful for everything that has been and is (and will be).

How does nostalgia feel like for you?


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