Looking at old photos is like grabbing a single piece of cloth from a massive tapestry. You can envision the full tapestry in your mind, but that piece of cloth influences what it looks like. Maybe it’s more dark blue or maybe white and gold. Maybe you feel happy about fun days, or you feel saddened that you cannot relive those days. Nostalgia is a strange mistress, because the way she appears depends not on her but on us.
When you are 15, remembering when you were 5, you might feel a number of things such as embarrassment. You might be embarrassed that your parents kept that photo of you running around in your underwear in the house. Or you could feel a sense of freedom that you can do more things now than you could when you were 5. However, when you are 25, you might long for those simpler days when Mom or Dad were close by and you had no real worries.
In the same manner, nostalgia can be both a positive and negative force. It could inspire someone who has been dragged down by life to remember the carefree days and attempt to emulate those feelings in his or her life, rather than continuing in negative thoughts. It could also be a good collective activity among a group of friends or family. On the negative side, it can lead to one creating, as Neon Genesis Evangelion puts it, a rosary of good memories that one clings to rather than dealing with the present. It can also lead to destructive patterns in a quest to restore the past, such as Gatsby’s obsession with restoring his old romance with Daisy in the Great Gatsby.
Pop culture currently is obsessed with nostalgia. From Star Wars to Power Rangers, they are all attempting to grab a piece of that nostalgic pie. The Force Awakens was a love letter to every little boy and girl in the 80s who grew up with Luke Skywalker. Yet for some, the new movie will never quite capture the original feeling, but it will remind viewers of some part of the tapestry that is Star Wars.
One question that emerges from this post is, “How should we relate to nostalgia?” In my own mind, I believe there are a few general principles. First of all, don’t lose your childlike spirit. By childlike, I am not talking about “childish behavior,” but rather a sense of wonder. We all know people who have completely lost their sense of wonder and became angry, jaded and sometimes extremely unpleasant. By keeping that spirit, we can both engage with nostalgic memories and create new ones, which leads to my final point.
Live your life naturally now so that you will naturally create good memories. This does not mean live in an artificial way to create Kodak moments that can easily be quantified and thrown on social media. It means to live your life naturally, with a childlike spirit, so that good memories will come naturally.
You may call that a cliche, but just remember that cliches were once treasured tropes.