On Being Nostalgic

On Being Nostalgic

Be nostalgic or enjoy the growth opportunities. David Byrnes of the Oscar nominated music score “This Is a Life” has a very distinct opinion: I am not very nostalgic. And I always feel like the next thing I am going to do is the thing…


min read

March 11, 2023
Mar 11, 2023

Not Being Nostalgic Keeps You Young

“[You not being nostalgic], that’s exactly what keeps you young”, said the interviewer, Bill Maher. The comedian follows up with: “I could be sentimental, but I don’t want to. Because it would remind me that I am closer to death than you,” he continued towards the 70-year-old David Byrne who is nominated for an Oscar for best musical score this weekend.

“Yeah, so far, yes. I am not very nostalgic. […] and I always feel like the next thing I am going to do is the thing…”, David answers.

This is a theme somebody in their 30’s develops an ear for when everyone on Twitter starts talking about their ‘quarter-life crisis’: How to keep that open feeling of “the next thing I am going to do is the thing…”? How to keep a mindset of optimism in a world around us, that seems to change faster and faster. Or, rather in a world that constantly changes with oneself getting older. How to keep a growth mindset without just using the thinking tool of contrarianism. How to have a positive outlook on humanity in times of where one crisis with historical dimensions hits after the next paired with the growing experiences of personal disappointments?

The Comfort of Feeling Nostalgic

Memories of the past can be comforting. The past provides a sense of familiarity and its memories a connection to a time that has passed—a time where you were a part of something.

It is much easier for us to see ourselves in the picture of an experienced memory, than it is for us to imagine ourselves being a part of a future picture. Most of our brains do not have the strong imaginative capabilities that creative people like Oscar-nominated filmmakers have. Our brains have more of a strong imagination of eventualities of the past and the present.

Nostalgia can become a resort of comforting feelings. It is therefore important to find a balance between appreciating the past and embracing the present. It is essential to learn from past experiences, but not to let them hinder your progress or prevent you from fully enjoying life in the present moment.

Because what happens when our longing for the past becomes a hindrance to our personal growth and enjoyment of the present moment?

Nostalgic Experiences

As I sat across from my school friends in a cozy bar, I couldn't help myself but to gaze into the distance. Faraway I heard my friends speak about “the good old times”. While it was fun and the world back then seemed to be just waiting to be conquered by us – we didn't even question that it wasn't as open to us – my mind wandered to, “Why can't they stop talking about the past? I don’t miss how things used to be. Not as much as I am much looking forward to what it is that we can do—now that everything is possible. But I do not have any orientation in that wide Blue Ocean laying in front of us.” I would have enjoyed talking about this navigation challenge a lot more.

The social glue of shared past experiences had become a hindrance to our personal growth and enjoyment of the present moment. Enjoying the present moment seemed work hard, party hard—the max/max principle of where you would land in the middle if you averaged it out.

Until today I find nostalgia a difficult topic as constant longing for the past preventing me from fully appreciating the opportunities and experiences available to me right now. And fully taking advantage of them.

Aspects of nostalgia and their effects on growth, the present moment, and adapting

A while back I talked to Charlie about that there seem to be various aspects that we should male ourselves aware of and their effects on personal growth and enjoyment of the present moment and adapting to new situations. It all started with Charlie having this weird moment when the smell of the first scent coincided with a song, bringing Charlie on a road of reminiscing…

Nostalgia is a common human experience. One that we are more open to experiencing when we experience a significant life change or event, like going to university or starting your first job, the loss of a loved one, or even a particular smell or song.

Enjoying the Present

Charlie often compares new experiences to past ones and finds them lacking. When you are constantly thinking about the past, it can be difficult to fully enjoy the present moment. You may be so focused on how things used to be that you fail to appreciate what is happening around you right now.

Moreso, dwelling in nostalgia can be a bittersweet feeling, as it often involves longing for something that is no longer there. While the feelings of sadness is something we all experience, dwelling too much in the past has no value to me.

Because it is not something that I can influence, not an input variable I can put something in to. And something that I cannot influence feels hopeless helpless, even depressing. You can work through it on a personal level, or you can try to spin the narrative.

Opportunity to Learn or Spinning a Narrative

Nostalgia leads to the spinning the narrative. Like a PR agent, or a bad crisis communications specialist in an environmental disaster like an oil spill.

While in the moment of the crisis happening the narrative will be dominated by the news business it will take some time until the entire dimension will become obvious. The truth of such crisis will come out later in a congressional hearing.

Yes, but no one watches C-SPAN you might say. And the broad public will only remember the narrative of PR and crisis communicators, because they were loudest. I believe in good journalists who will pick up on that and good publishers giving them the space—or a place on the Internet for them to self-publish it.

Because even they might decide against learning and for spinning the narrative they know that they rather do otherwise. They just don’t see a solution in that moment.

Or, they were very clear about their intentions and values and we just don’t want to believe that because what can be more important like humanity or democracy or another shared value? Like a Murdoch when he agrees to what matters to him as the boss of this media company, “we don’t follow the red, not the blue, we follow the green

Well, if it’s all that we expect from life to look good in the eye of the average joe and make a bunch of greens, then go ahead. But it will distort your sense of reality.

Your Perception of Reality

Nostalgia can cause you to view the past in a more positive light than it actually was. You may only remember the good times and forget about the difficulties or challenges you faced. This can lead to an unrealistic view of the past, which can make it difficult to make sound decisions in the present.

Charlie experienced, that in moments of nostalgia it somewhat distorts perception of reality: “When we look back at the past, we tend to remember the good times and forget about the challenges and difficulties we faced,” Charlie said. “This can lead to an unrealistic view of the past, which can make it difficult for me to make sound decisions in the present.”

That what Charlie describes is is called the “positivity bias”. It refers to our tendency to remember positive experiences more vividly and accurately than negative experiences, the conflicts, the challenges and difficulties we faced.

This bias can be problematic because it can lead us to make decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate information. To avoid falling victim to the positivity bias, it's important to reflect objectively on past experiences and consider both the positive and negative aspects of those experiences and not dwelling in nostalgia.

The good thing about forgetting how difficult it was

We forget how difficult it really was, because often we were not that aware of it. Now that we have become older and more experienced and have more data points and a more honed ability to see patterns we think too much comparatively trying to find happiness. We now have something to compare ourselves to and with.

Additionally, we are confronted with all the expectations and narratives of macro and micro social circles that surround us and might hold us back. The sociological role models, crave for belonging and acceptance by peers, and the “this is how you have to be” narratives formed by society, politics… all those can hold us back from becoming a better version of ourselves by accepting a version of reality that is not us.

Another bias that we succumb to when dwelling in nostalgia and therefore can hold us back from moving forward and in make better decision in future events, is hindsight bias.

Moving Forward and Making Better Decision in the Future

Nostalgia often involves looking back at the past and reminiscing about how things used to be. It mustn’t necessarily be an overly positive view of the past to evoke feelings of comfort.

Comforting feeling can also prevent you from moving forward and making progress in your life. You may become too attached to the way things used to be and find it difficult to adapt to new situations.

Charlie would often reminisce about the times and the adventures where the scent and the song were an integral part of. However, this longing for the past prevented Charlie from fully embracing the opportunities and experiences the now provided. Charlie found that the constant longing for the past made it difficult to adapt to new situations. Because Charlie was so attached to the way things used to be, the fateful meeting of a scent and a song of Charlies past was no coincidence—it becoming an elevated moment was emotional.

Another way of finding comfort is through certainty. And the past has it readily available. So you might end up finding certainty where there actually is none or little. Making sense of the past that will hold you back from moving forward by succumbing to hindsight bias.

Hindsight bias refers to the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to have predicted an outcome after the fact. We tend to believe that an outcome was more predictable than it actually was.

Charlie for example is a business owner. Now imagine Charlie has just experienced a significant financial loss. When we fall victim to hindsight bias, we convince ourselves that we should have seen the loss coming and that it was us who made a mistake by not taking steps to prevent it. This kind of thinking can lead someone like Charlie to become overly cautious in the future, which can hold Charlie back from taking the risks necessary to succeed and that comes with taking on any (ad)venture.

Hindsight bias can hold you back from moving forward by making you overly cautious or risk-averse because you believe that events are more predictable than they actually are. You becoming overly confident in your ability to predict future outcomes, that will lead to not calculating risk properly and making decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate information.

To avoid falling victim to hindsight bias, it's important to recognize that events are often less predictable than they seem in hindsight and to base your decisions on the best available information at the time.

Enjoying the Growth Opportunities.

In the discussion with Charlie we discovered that nostalgia can hinder us from fully enjoying the present moment. While it can provide a sense of comfort and connection to the past, constantly longing for the past can also distort our perception of reality and prevent us from fully appreciating the opportunities and experiences available to us right now.

It is important to find a balance between appreciating the past and embracing the present as the past can provide us with lessons learned to make better decisions in the present and finding ourselves.

For progress and personal growth, we should:

  • Appreciate the present moment and live in the presentLiving in the present moment allows us to fully enjoy life and appreciate the experiences and opportunities that are available to us right now. It also allows us to make the most of our time and energy, rather than wasting it on things that are no longer relevant or we can’t influence only by narrative rather than action .
  • Focus on using the lessons we have learned to make better decisions in the present
    Learning from the past is an essential part of personal growth and development. The experiences and lessons we learn from our past can help us make better bets, as Annie Duke (2018) would phrase it

Not being nostalgic but enjoying the growth opportunities. And being thankful for what has been so you can focus on the trail ahead.

It is not easy as we at large are not very comfortable with uncertainty. Maybe we can find comfort in knowing that “even the best decision doesn't yield the best outcome every time” (Duke 2018), instead of trying to find comfort in nostalgia.

Is cinema nostalgic?

Is cinema nostalgic? Or our desires for a good story just a part of who we are as a human?

Will, the score of Everything Everywhere All at Once win the Oscar? I don’t know. Son Lux and the duett partners Mitski and David Byrne have long moved on. While This Is a Life will resurface to a wider audience with the nomination and gain many more views than the existing 283.000 views in the weeks to come, they already have given their best to this project.

Is this movie nostalgic? I don’t now, I haven’t seen it. But the soundtrack strikes a chord. And this is what I leave you with the duett by Mitski and David Byrne—that 70-year-old David who answers to “you seem to be always looking forward” with “Yeah, so far, yeah. I am not very nostalgic. […] and I always feel like the next thing I am going to do is the thing I am.” No sense of nostalgia will keep you moving forward in this life

This Is a Life

Slow and sudden miracles

View of other worlds

From our window sills

With the weight of eternity

At the speed of light

This is a life

This is our life


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