During my senior year of college, I lived in an adorable little house with several of my best friends. In the evenings, we would sit on the couch and recount every last detail of our days, from the biggest victories to the most arbitrary details. After graduating from college, though, we went in separate directions for jobs and grad programs and new adventures.
As I adjusted to post-collegiate life, I missed the carefree days of college. I wasn’t quite ready to let go of one season because I didn’t know what was next.
It’s part of the reason why nostalgia is so prevalent in our society. With shows like Black Mirror showing us a scary and unsettling future, we turn to eras of the past for comfort and familiarity. It’s no surprise that The Office remains one of the most-watched shows, even though it’s over a decade old at this point. From television shows like That 90s Show to reoccurring fashion trends, it seems our society has a revitalized interest in the past. Nostalgia, both collectively and individually, can be a meaningful way to remember the past.
However, it can be detrimental if our fixation on the “good ol’ days” causes us to miss out on the present.
Nostalgia Can Connect Us to The Past in a Meaningful Way.
After spending years studying how nostalgia impacts individuals, Dr. Constantine Sedikides discovered the bittersweet emotion had several positive outcomes. His research found that nostalgia could help combat loneliness, anxiety and boredom.
“Nostalgia made me feel that my life had roots and continuity. It made me feel good about myself and my relationships. It provided a texture to my life and gave me strength to move forward,” he noted.
Researchers have found that nostalgia tends to be high among young adults because it helps stabilize us during difficult transitions. Recalling fond memories can steady us as we deal with the newfound challenges of adulthood. Remembering the past can help us make sense of the present and enable us to feel more grounded, settled and focused. It can reveal how God was working in our lives, even if we didn’t realize it at the time.
Throughout the Old Testament, God constantly called His people to remember the mighty acts and miracles He had performed. By remembering how God had provided for them in the past, the Israelites could rest assured He would continue to care for them in the future. In the same way, reflecting on how God has worked in our lives can remind us of His nature, character and unfailing love.
If Left Unchecked, Nostalgia Can Be a Dangerous Form of Comparison.
While a healthy dose of nostalgia can be beneficial, it can quickly turn into a detrimental desire for the past if left unchecked. When establishing roots in an unfamiliar city, it’s easy to miss the companionship and camaraderie of friends back home. When starting a new job, it’s easy to miss the familiarity of our former workplace.
When we feel isolated or uncertain, we run the risk of clinging to the past—because, even if circumstances weren’t ideal, they were known. There’s comfort and safety in knowing what to expect, so it’s tempting to prefer the known past to an unknown future.
Dr. Brene Brown noted, “Nostalgia is a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare our lives to a memory that nostalgia has so completely edited that it never really existed.”
Longing for the past can prevent us from seeing the goodness in the present. So rather than holding onto the past, let’s surrender the mental picture of what life used to be and love what it is now. As missionary Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
Resolve to Appreciate the Old But Anticipate the New.
If we’re preoccupied with the past, we run the risk of missing out on the beauty inherent in the present. Isaiah 43:18-19 says, “Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
If we cling to the past, fervently wishing we could continue to live in it, we will miss the wonderful new things God is doing in the present. Rather than focusing on the past, let’s move forward courageously in this transitional season of life, knowing the best days are always ahead of us.
As pastor Daniel Darling wrote, “The Gospel differs from nostalgia. The gospel instructs us to look back…not to some mythical golden era, but to the cross, where sin and death were defeated.”
The Gospel does not point us backward; it points us forward.
When I graduated from college, I was afraid to leave one season behind because I didn’t know what was around the corner. Although there are things I miss about my college days, I wouldn’t choose to go back to them. There are dozens of beautiful occasions, meaningful relationships and precious memories I never could have experienced if life had remained exactly the same.
Editor’s note: A similar version of this article previously appeared in RELEVANT.