Nostalgia is a Lie. The Best is Still Ahead.

It is easy to look back on life and remember only the greatest things. It is your brains way of keeping you from going crazy. I have always written in a journal. It started as a way to keep track of my workouts when I was an athlete. What worked and what didn’t. I was talking on the phone with one of my former teammates the other day. We were catching up and laughing about events in our past. There was one event that we were trying to recall but we both remembered it differently. Having moved recently I knew that I still had a journal or two from that time- more than 30 years ago. I went up into the attic to find it, sat down on the floor and started to page through it. I found the event we were talking about. It was a practical joke we played on our coach. Both of us were mostly right but there were somethings that I would have sworn were true that we were both WAY off.

As I went down the rabbit hole of reading some of the old entries I realized how many painful incidents I have packed away and moved on from. From perceived injustices in practice to being bullied by an older teammate. There were so many things going on in life at that time that were NOT good. Why would I ever want to go back to that time? I remember all the great things going on. Not the terrible things.

HIV/AIDS- I don’t think there’s anything that I can say about this terrible disease that hasn’t been said better by others already, but suffice it to say, AIDS sucks, and it was almost always a death sentence in the ’80s. Casual racism and other completely insensitive things were common place in the 80s. Do we really need to do that again?

The more things change the more they stay the same. In the 1980’s we were worried about THE COLD WAR. Of course it might’ve been harder for Americans to care about others back then because there was still a chance we might be instantly evaporated by a rolling wall of fire when a Russian ICBM landed in our backyard. The Cold War kinda looks quaint now, but paranoia over a nuclear war with our global enemies was still running high in the ’80s. To quote an old hardcore punk song: “If AIDS don’t get ya, then the warheads will.” Those underlying fears seemed likely to come true back then.

Gone are the days (mostly) of gas guzzling cars and archaic technology. There was a FREAKING HOLE IN THE OZONE! But through government regulations things have gotten better. You hear people complain about the price of gas today yet In the year 1980, the average retail price of gas was $1.19. This is equivalent to $4.60 in 2023 dollars! The AVERAGE MPG of a NEW car in the 1980s was less than 17 MPG. Do you really want to go back to that time now?

Nostalgia Is a Liar, So Keep Moving Forward

They call it nostalgia and not the past because nostalgia is a rose-tinted lens that distorts the past, a lens through which we bend and contort memories to fit our whims and desires, to have them slot neatly into narratives and weave seamlessly into wider stories we tell ourselves, stories about when we were younger, stronger, better, happier.

Nostalgia, in short, is a liar.

We all indulge in nostalgia. It’s an affliction, a condition, it’s the way we’re wired. Stories are how humanity passed on instruction and moral code for millennia. The past can’t just be the past, it has to have meaning, we have to contextualize it and use our present to justify what went before, we have to romanticize how got here through nostalgia’s dirty lens.

This would all be fine, but the truth is nostalgia makes us unhappy.

Czech author Milan Kundera noted:

“The Greek word for ‘return’ is nostos. Algos means ‘suffering.’ So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”

Nostalgia is toxic. It removes us from the present, it takes us out of gratitude and mindfulness and plunges us into the movie playing in our head. It has us comparing our reality-based present to a fabricated, fantasy past.

An Antidote

I say all this because so many of us wallow in yesteryear glory. How many of your friends talk incessantly about “the good old days” of 20 years ago, when they weren’t even so good? The MAGA crowd that believes that YESTERDAY was the best they will ever be.

Nostalgia is disempowering. The only natural conclusion when in its thrall is to believe your best days are behind you and you’re powerless to change that.

Fuck that.

Right now, in the present, is the youngest you’re ever going to be, so stop wallowing about past conquests and set sail once more.

The antidote to nostalgia is action.

Our present and future can be anything we want it to be. The past has gone, and it doesn’t need to have a bearing on where we go next.

Good times are coming and you could realize this much more readily if nostalgia didn’t sit on your shoulder, whisper into your ear and feeding you lies.

So don’t believe it. You have that choice. Hear the whispers and realize they’re deception.

This doesn’t mean disregard your fond memories or abandon the lessons your past has taught you, it just means focus on the present without holding onto a false narrative about who you were.

After all, it is only the present we live in. The present is your life; one long expanding present that rolls out in front of us all, a crest of a wave we are riding together.

Don’t look back, keep moving forward because, in case you hadn’t realized, nostalgia is a liar.

“Nostalgia is a dirty liar that insists things were better than they seemed.”

AMERICA is a country with great possibilities. We are relatively young and our democratic experiment will still grow and evolve. Look forward to what we can be.

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