Nostalgia: Good, Bad...Neither?


I’m about to send out the BV newsletter, and in it I discuss nostalgia. I want a place for a discussion of the topic to land, so I’m creating this thread for it. If you’ve read the newsletter, what do you think? (Even if you haven’t, do you have an opinion?)


I think nostalgia is a great topic - and that the past can be a great place to go for insight and (for some of us) comfort. That said, it might be worthwhile asking yourself: where do my emotions and thoughts sit? If they are always in the past, it might be useful trying to write down some pleasant things about the present each day. The same exercise might be useful for those of us whose thoughts always go to the future.


Nostalgia keeps me from boarding the crazy train. It’s the source of what gets my creativity going and it’s what brings me back to myself. It’s where I feel successful because the nostalgia in me can sometimes bring resonance. I ache for that…perhaps it’s a human thing.


@Joe_Bankman I loved your response. Your insight made me ask myself:

  1. Do different people’s emotions and thoughts sit in different places (for some, the past, for others, the future…what are the choices)?
  2. How can you tell if having your emotions sitting somewhere is a good, bad, or indifferent thing? Only if it causes you pain? I often say that my tell is physical pain like migraines, nausea, etc…

I also love your suggestion of writing down pleasant things about the present. It reminds me of the ancient Jewish teachings of Mussar and 100 Blessings a Day. It’s well described in this film by Tiffany Schlain (creator of the Webby Awards). It starts at 4:56:

The idea is that you quietly say you are grateful for different things in your life all day. At the end of the day, you remember all of the gratefuls as you fall asleep.

I will be add this to the new “experiments” bucket on, thank you!


@gigiraffe – First of all, I love your owl! I always have an owl wallpaper on my laptop. I find them so soothing and incredible.

Secondly, something that really intrigued me about what @Joe_Bankman said is “the past can be a great place to go for insight and (for some of us) comfort.” Indeed, I may be overcorrecting in my thinking about the past because for so many years I used nostalgia as a cover or escape. It might be that it’s all about the mindset and mentality that you bring to it. Sounds like you bring a very positive, creative spirit to your nostalgia. I’m all for that!

Thanks for sharing your perspective–it’s much appreciated.


Great set of questions. I often thing that depression sits in the past and anxiety in the future. Phil Zimbardo has an interesting view of cultures: some are in the past, some in the present. He writes that in Sicily (where his family emigrated from) there are very few words to describe the future…

My guess is that if emotions and thoughts sit most firmly in the present, you’re happier.

My internal dialogue sometimes chides me for being disloyal to my past for saying that - in particular disloyal to people in my past. But I find when I am in the present there is plenty of space to note and honor those folks…


My wife hates that I’m so nostalgic. Barry Hannah wrote along the lines of people in the South become nostalgic at age 11. If so, I’m definitely a Southerner (just lacking the accent and other negative connotations).

We leave behind so many things in our lives – things, places and people we didn’t mean to leave behind but from whom our life’s path led us away.

If you’re like me and a bit depressive in general, you know how difficult it is to be happy or content, to look forward to things with a positive attitude. You know the difficulty of making close, in-person friends. And you know how hard it is to leave those things behind and go back into your lonely darkness.

Much of my writing, when it’s not topical, is nostalgic. My wife worries that I idealize 20 years ago and denigrate my current life with her. That’s not the case. Twenty years ago I wrote nonstop about what was going on in my life (it was much more exciting when I was younger). Nowadays, there’s not much to say about daily life (and even less that my wife would be comfortable with me writing and publishing) beyond work, reading and sleep.

Hell, if we’re honest, I likely wrote most of that stuff with the expectation that I would go back and relive parts of those times in my mind when reading them in the future. The benefit of have a 20-year old online journal/blog.


@willpate Your description of the use of nostalgia for creative/writing purposes is super intriguing to me. I was once told that I “create knots in order to untie them.” Other writers I know seem to get into chaotic situations for no reason, which makes a person wonder if it’s in order to have fodder to write about.

Being a writer–and having the urge to create–is such a deep and odd longing. Didn’t Marcel Proust spend a decade in his bed? Couldn’t have been in a great mental state. And yet he said:

It could be that nostalgia is a choice we make. Perhaps a set of trade-offs. And the important thing is to do it consciously.