I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel nostalgia for something, though I am certain there must have been one. After all, go back far enough and there is nothing left for me to feel nostalgic about, no friends to miss or places I would rather be. Everything was new, and perfect for being so. Does a toddler miss the days before they could walk? Unlikely. Walking is independence, and independence was always a thing to be treasured.

Back in the day, my mind would have been occupied with more important things than reminiscing. For example: the new and brilliant book I was working on (it was called The Giraffe’s Cold and is sure to be a big hit one day), or the fact that no one ever seemed to take any of my — naturally, always correct — opinions seriously. Bothersome creatures, grown ups. They never know when they’re wrong.

“Living in the past is an easy way to ignore the pressing issues of today.”

Perhaps not much has changed.

The thing is, though, over the years, I have found myself taking more and more comfort in the familiar in a way that would have made my headstrong and independent former-self confused and perhaps even a little outraged. What happened to exploring new things? When stressed, I sometimes re-read books or re-watch old television shows to help keep my mind centred — after all, everyone knows that in-depth knowledge of the IT crowd is a foolproof way to pass exams. I enjoy going to places that remind me of another time: a time that was lighter, with less stuff weighing me down.

And there seems to be a lot of stuff, lately.

Nostalgia has the power to bring great comfort. As well as being a tool that aids personal growth, it can also help us deal with difficult times. It aids mental health, and reflection. It can be as simple as a small diversion to keep us from dwelling on everything we are anxious about, those spiralling thoughts that quickly build. It can remind us how much we have to be thankful for, or help us relive treasured memories with those we love.

“Nostalgia is a flimsy bandage over a gaping wound. Nothing is going away, and nothing is getting any better while you turn a blind eye.”

At the same time, living in the past can also be an easy way to ignore the pressing issues of today. Pretend well enough and perhaps all those problems will just float on by, not even glancing our way — if I can’t see them, they can’t see me… right? If one thing is certain, it’s that burying your head in the sand is a fine way to see nothing at all. Neither the bad, nor the good.

Sure, indulging in a little nostalgia now and then may have its advantages. But when is enough enough? When do we finally have to stop making banana bread the way grandma always used to and face the reality in front of us? I think it is clear that longing for a time that is lost to us forever can lead people, and even whole countries, to make catastrophic decisions. If you refuse to see the world for what it is today, how can you ever hope to gain the perspective to make prudent choices?


Mountain View

Existing in the In Between

Living in the past will not solve our problems. Just like ‘making America great again’ will not stop the climate from changing, people from going hungry, or being killed. Taking the UK back to the 1950s, or even the 1900s, will not make people any happier. It will only make the world smaller, and colder for those groups of people for whom progress has meant everything. Being preoccupied with nostalgic notions takes us away from the things that desperately need our attention. It is a flimsy bandage over a gaping wound. Nothing is going away, and nothing is getting any better while you turn a blind eye.

History may contain jam roly-poly, top hats, cigars and a resilience that was forged by necessity, but it is also home to a great many flaws, atrocities, miscalculations and horrendous decisions. Progress, be it political or personal, should be cherished, not wished away. As we all know, some things are left in the past for a reason.

If there is one thing I would like to regain from my past self, it is the ability — the habit — of always looking forward. The past may be a fun place to visit, seductive and familiar, but don’t let it convince you to stay too long. You never know what you might miss.