Nostalgia: What It Is, What’s True About It, What To Do With It

Nostalgia. The etiology of the word is thus: algia—pain. Nost—from the base word gnost–that is knowledge. When we unite the two together, we get “painful knowledge”. That’s a curious way of thinking of knowledge as knowledge on its own is “neutral”. It therefore must be the case that knowledge in this instance is being defined through an emotional lens—namely causing pain.

I have noticed within myself a curious form of amnesia that takes over sometimes. There is a tendency when looking back toward a happy memory to define the context in which it occurred as “over all happy”. For instance, I often think back to when my grandfather was around and I remember it in the context of “Man, those were good times, but now they are long gone.” Yet, when I really put everything in motion AS IT WAS, the times with my grandfather were more of an exception than the rule. When I went back home and had to deal with my abusive Dad, that was categorically a “bad time” and if I think of the context in which those memories occur everything seems “craptastic”.


This Is How My Emotions Work When Thinking of Something Good–notice the lack of storm clouds elsewhere–parse error!

Emotional lenses, it seems to me, tend to be black and white like that. One emotion presents itself, and there simply isn’t room for another contrary one. The focus determines which emotion is predominant. They are both equally real, and they are both equally valid ways of looking at life. Put another way, they are both equally unreal, and both equally not the totality of the situation. The only way a “True synthesis” of the two can be achieved is by slamming the two emotional states together and holding them in mind—which by nature emotional states are not inclined to do. Emotions then, are a good indicator of splits in duality.

The funny thing about the split in emotional duality, though, is that we as human beings do not have issues with happy emotions. We aren’t traumatized by HAPPINESS. Nobody ever looks back and says, “You know what, there was this one time I was happy and it really, really fucked me up!” On the other hand, it seems like it is exceptionally easy and common to have an experience that is “traumatic” that proves very hard for someone to overcome.

What follows as a corollary from this observation? Well, for one thing, happiness is something that is a more “natural state”. Why do we conclude this? Because it doesn’t disturb the psyche. It accepts the joy, and continues on its way without having any backlash. On the other hand, trauma is not a natural state. How do we know this? Because the psyche has serious problems with it—it gets stuck. Being stuck, as I discussed elsewhere on stagnation is “against nature”. What then can we say of nostalgia? It must be happening because we have become unhappy as the word is commonly used. Hence, our current state of “not happiness” if we are in a nostalgic mood must be from an “unnatural state”. We have become stuck in some time period wherein we look back at happiness and find our current life wanting by comparison. Our beliefs and hopes are likely different now than they were looking back, and so we believe that “then” was a privileged point and “now” sucks. Yet, if we really stop to think about it, nothing has really changed between the two points other than our beliefs. Yes, we may have been exposed to some kind of trauma that interferes with our perceptions where our beliefs are concerned, but it is still a matter of beliefs altering how we experience reality. We must somehow integrate the trauma if it be present, mourn it, whatever, and re-adjust our beliefs so that we can tune back into what is the “natural state”—where we can accept happiness and move forward to experience other manifestations of it without feeling dark, hurt, and entangled in a million different unpleasant ways.

I suspect many people look back at childhood nostalgically simply because they had not been as hurt as much during that time period. When one becomes an adult and they get out in the world and hold jobs, they begin to form beliefs and expectations. They become defensive after they get screwed over a few times by other adults who are just as wounded if not more so who are trying to gain happiness for themselves at the expense of others. Such a person looks back at a child and refers to them as “childish” because the “real world” doesn’t work the way the child thinks it does. That’s not quite so. Children have to learn how not to be completely self-centered, which many do not, and so they become self-centered adults who criticize children for being, of all things, self-centered. What saves a child from complete selfish absorption are its ideals—its purity of being. What adults lose contact with are those ideals and purity of being—and they then take the world as a “shitty, hard place”. Then, they think back to their childhoods and become nostalgic because they remember a time when their beliefs were otherwise.

For my part, I can’t say that I remember my childhood as being exceptionally happy. Most of it I look back at and think “Whew, I’m glad that’s over.” There were some bright spots, but they were amid many, many storm clouds. When I have nostalgia, it is for those bright spots which my mind wants to inflate into something they never were. As Billy Joel put it, “The good ole days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” If I’m going to have knowledge, I’d prefer it to be complete, and not the kind that causes me pain. That’s far too polarized, and not consistent with reality. Hence, I’m waving goodbye to anything nostalgic.

If you want to join me in the fire, bring your Ataris and Nintendos. The games weren’t THAT good, we just thought they were.

  • Classic! Joining in on the Burning. Let’s get together for Xbox experience, I promise this will last a few years! 🙂