Reframing nostalgia

Last weekend, I returned to New York City for the first time in months. I was met with a wave of emotion; elicited by a home I could no longer recognize. The streets I knew so well were familiar, but the energy that once defined them was missing. 

As I walked up Sixth Avenue, I flashed back to myself five years ago, two years ago, eight months ago. Each time pacing the same route, each time in a distinctly different phase of life. I wondered when the current ‘phase’ would end and what my past self would have thought if she had seen me, or the world, right now? 

I know I’m not alone. At some point this year, most of us have found ourselves grasping for people or places we’ve left behind, even when we didn’t expect to miss them. Truthfully, there is nothing more distressing than longing for a home that no longer exists. It is such a poignant piece of the human experience that we created a word for it: nostalgia.

Nostalgia originates from the Greek nostos, meaning ‘homecoming,’ and algia, meaning ‘pain.’ And that pain was not to be underestimated. In fact, it was treated as a physical disease by the 17th-century doctors credited with its labeling. More recently, nostalgia has been regarded as something that must be outgrown or mentally outmuscled; quite the opposite of physical disease.

Yet as the seasons change and we collectively long for the normalcy that used to be, perhaps we are due for yet another paradigm shift around nostalgia. Just a couple of mindset tweaks can go a long way:

1// Understand & Accept It 

A key step in understanding nostalgia is normalizing it. Most people reminisce about their past once a week, or more! Moreover, psychology tells us that engaging with nostalgia can be constructive in several ways. It may help us to cope with difficulty, to maintain our confidence, to strengthen our sense of purpose, or to be more charitable. By acknowledging nostalgia’s commonality and positive aspects we are better able to accept and channel it.

2// Channel It 

This brings us to step two. Let’s be clear, wallowing in “used to be’s” serves no one. We only reap the benefits of nostalgia by harnessing it appropriately. Next time you find yourself thinking wistfully of the past, take the next step to connect it to the present, or even future! For example, if you’re tempted to reminisce about a childhood memory, indulge it but then take the next step to consider how it made you the person you are today; and perhaps how, with those same values, you plan to continue creating a life you are proud of. Pushing your thought process just a little bit further can turn wishful thinking into a great source of comfort and strength. 

In short, if you wanted an excuse to take a trip down memory lane today, none needed! I’ll be right here with you:

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