I sometimes find myself getting an attack of nostalgia when I remember those moments when it was just Mona and I before our daughter was born. Those times when we had complete freedom to do what we wanted, when we wanted and how we wanted.
If we felt like taking a romantic trip or simply go for an intimate meal, we didn’t need to sort out child care. When we could binge watch some show that caught our attention, we didn’t worry if it was age appropriate or if the volume was too high. When we could jump into bed whenever we were in the mood for making love without listening out for footsteps outside our bedroom.
If I’m not careful, what comes out of this nostalgia is a wishing for an imagined ‘better time’ and the associated frustrations that come from my story that life is no longer as good as it was then. I say ‘imagined’, because my memories are very selective and I forget the challenges we had. The distance relationship and long periods of missing each-other and frustrating video calls where we couldn’t touch each other. Or the struggles over integrating our new life with my child from my previous relationship. And all of this on a backdrop of uncertainty if we would make it as a couple.
Life was not better before Emma. It was different, for sure, but overall my life improves with the passing of time. Each new period brings new adventures and rewarding experiences.
Nostalgia is not always a bad thing of course because I love to remember pleasant things. Yet it is something I want to manage and avoid:
- When nostalgia takes me away from life now
If my attention is on the past it means I am not fully present in my life now. When this happens often, I get easily distracted, become distant or my mood swings in ways not at all related to the present. Yet the present is where my life and experience lives – not the past.
I want to live now and enjoy life now.
I want to be fully present with Mona and my kids – if not, then I will miss out on something.
- When nostalgia takes my power away
If I’m yearning for a time gone by then it could be a sign that something in my present life is not working quite in the way I would like. And this might be worth listening to and making some change. Yet looking back in time pushes my energy to consider why things were better then.
And I can’t do anything about what was. Only about what is.
I want my power and agency here, in this life I’m living today. Yes, maybe there is some hidden feedback in the reminiscing, and I would be wise to listen to it and see what I can do now to address this. Not to recreate a previous life, but to find what I need now and how to get it in this current life.
- When nostalgia invites unhelpful comparisons
Nostalgia is very selective and paints a very rosy picture by removing the difficult parts. It makes no sense, though, to make a comparison between life now and then, based on a few narrow criteria. Yes, there was more freedom to spontaneously do stuff before our daughter was born. Yet if I look at my life now, as a whole, it is far richer, varied and settled than then. I am happier and much closer to the person I want to be than I was then.
- When nostalgia keeps alive that which is dead
Sometimes nostalgia is about when I was doing something very different to what I’m doing now. For example, I had a few years when I was earning and spending a lot of money. That time has gone and I consciously chose a different, simpler way of life. Reminiscing about that time is keeping alive something that I chose to let die. Or sometimes I get nostalgic about a previous relationship where that person is no longer in my life. Again I’m keeping alive a relationship that is dead.
And I want to be alive and surround myself with living things, living relationships and choices that I fully own.
How to come back to the present
Who I am has been formed by all the experiences and people I have shared my journey with. This is normal and I want to acknowledge this, celebrate and be grateful. But I don’t want to hold on.
If you find yourself thinking about the past more than you would like, then consider some of the following tips:
- Appreciate the present – even if some aspects suited you better in the past, what does your current life bring you? What are the great things about having kids around? How is your current relationship nurturing you? In what ways is your life better now? In what ways have you become a better person?
- Grateful for the past – reframe your nostalgia away from a yearning for the past toward a gratefulness for what it brought you. Give thanks and move on.
- Set aside time for reminiscing – set aside a specific time to savour your memories as precious and visit them through photos, videos or any other records you kept. When that time is over, put everything away and get back to the present.
- Cut the ties – let go of photos and other sentimental objects that remind you of the past. For these items, ask yourself if they have a continued place in your life. If not, let them go with thanks and appreciation.
“But in that moment I understood what they say about nostalgia, that no matter if you’re thinking of something good or bad, it always leaves you a little emptier afterward.”