Nostalgia Is a Dirty Liar Trying To Get Your Attention


I get nostalgic when I’m stressed. Not always, but often enough that I’ve come to realize there's a pattern.

If life gets to be a little too much (too busy, too loud, too chaotic, too demanding, too overwhelming), I sink into the past. I go back to a specific memory — lying on the beach at a spectacular Mexican resort is a favorite of mine. Or a particular place in time — like before my daughter was born and I could sleep in, stay up reading until 4am, and spend all my disposable income on fancy 8-course meals while pretending to be a judge on Top Chef. (Seriously, some people dream of being Lady Gaga. I dream of being Tom Colicchio. With more hair.)

Here’s the interesting thing about nostalgia, though: no matter how much I might find myself pining away for a specific place and time, what I’m really, desperately longing for is recapturing a feeling.

Before I realized that, I thought things were just better in the past. I told myself life was better when I was ten pounds lighter, or when I worked a certain job or lived in a certain city. But you know what? Nostalgia lies.

It’s never about the specific conditions that you found yourself in. It’s always about the way you felt while you were there. And even that memory is often skewed by time. My husband calls this “revisionist memory”, and it’s exactly that. It’s the way we tell ourselves that things were better back then. We look at our own past with rose-colored glasses and sigh wistfully for what we lost.

But when my head’s pounding and the world’s relentless demands won’t let up, being magically transported to a beach in Mexico won’t solve my problems. Those issues I’m trying to escape from will still be there. Worse, I’d spend all my beach time stressing and worrying and fretting about how to deal with everything when I returned home.

Nor would it help me if I climbed into a time machine and turned back the clock by a decade. Sure, I might have been able to sleep in before my daughter was born, but my days were long and hollow without the belly-laughs that now fill my home.

No… what I’m really yearning for isn’t a do-over. My needs are so much simpler than that. I long for peace. For calm. For rest. All my nostalgic memories call to me as a reminder to... slow... down. To sleep more. Read more. Eat better food.

This week, I want you to examine your nostalgic memories. What are they telling you? What are they urging you to do? I bet if you’ll sit with those nostalgic thoughts long enough, you’ll be able to identify the theme that runs through them. And then you’ll be able to find ways to capture that feeling right here, right now, today — no time machine needed.