What To Do When Nostalgia Becomes Too Bittersweet


As an avid daydreamer, nostalgia is an all too familiar feeling. Recently, though, I’ve been wrestling with the question of whether I find it to be more of a positive or a negative force in my life. As with most things, the answer to this is not necessarily black and white. Sure, there are days when I recall a particularly fond memory and it brings me a sense of bliss and warmth; those are the days that I am grateful for such recollection of memories. However, I cannot ignore the moments in which reminiscing, though with the purest of intentions, takes a turn and simply results in an undeniable longing and sadness. In other words, nostalgia can be quite a bittersweet experience. So what should you do when it’s more bitter? And what should you do when it’s particularly sweet?

Let’s start with the “sweet.”

It’s easier to overlook the good things in our lives than it is to do so with the bad things. Yes, at times we do truly appreciate some of our blessings; I don’t doubt that. But often we take them for granted. When a sense of nostalgia floods your mind and heart and carries with it a wholesome feeling of happiness, don’t let this flow past you. Take a moment and acknowledge whatever it is within the memory that you are truly grateful for and appreciative of. Give thanks for having experienced that moment, that feeling. Take note of whatever it was that made it a particularly memorable experience. Was it a person? A place? Once you recognize it, you can do something about it. I’m not insinuating you can (or should) try to replicate it, but put in the effort to create more opportunities for the bliss that you felt in the moment that you are reminiscing about. If a certain person made it a moment worth cherishing and looking back on, reach out and spend more time with them. If it is a place, go back there or find somewhere that has the potential to elicit similar feelings within you. What I’m trying to say is use the sweet kind of nostalgia to inspire you to know how you can create more potential experiences that could be remembered with a sense of positive reminiscence and gratitude.

I do not deny that at times, feeling nostalgic does not automatically result in a feeling of gratitude. It can be difficult to look back on a time of pure happiness and know it cannot exactly be replicated. I struggle to let memories of the past go because I wish to continue living them; I get overwhelmed by a sense of longing, and in a way, a sense of loss. It is relatively easy to dwell on these feelings and sit in a bubble of “what was, but no longer is.” But if everything that we feel nostalgic about, that we wish we could experience again, did indeed happen again and again, would it be as special? Would we truly realize how lucky and grateful we should be to have experienced it? Similar to the more “positive” experiences of nostalgia, take note of what it is that makes you long to experience that memory again; identify what makes that memory worth the nostalgia and then take this and apply it to the present day. The reality is that the past is in the past, but we can still use it to nourish the present. Though it may not come as naturally with this kind of nostalgia relative to that which was described earlier, make the effort to practice gratitude for having experienced such a wonderful time, such a memorable moment, in the first place.

Whether a flood of nostalgia brings you feelings of appreciation/bliss or feelings of longing/loss (or maybe even all the above), it is important to remember to not remain in your mind and live in the memories of the past. Express your thankfulness for them, acknowledge what made them so special, and take your gratitude and realizations to cultivate a more memorable and remarkable present.