The important part first: happy memories are good things to have. But dwelling on them too much — and falling victim to sentimental longing — can make us blind to the good stuff in our present.
People who are into Stoicism know how important it is to focus on the present and not think too much about the past. But what if I told you that this rule applies to memories of good experiences as well as bad ones?
It’s fine to let yourself smile at a happy thought of the past occasionally, but every Stoic should beware of nostalgia. It can quickly turn into sentimental longing, which feeds stuff like depression, self-pity and ungratefulness.
Nostalgia is a bit like alcohol — a drink or two is fine, but once you start it’s easy to overindulge. What’s pleasant in small amounts can quickly lead to suffering.
The “tipping point” for nostalgia comes when you start comparing your happiest memories to what you’re experiencing in the present. It’s not hard to fall into the trap of thinking “today must be bad, because yesterday was better.”
We’re especially vulnerable to the dangers of nostalgia when we’re already feeling lonely or depressed about something. If you’ve recently gone through a breakup or divorce, for example, sentimental longing can lead to a spiral of unhealthy thinking.
There are times when lingering over the old photos, listening to the nostalgic music, and losing yourself in the happy memories can be bad for you.
Dwelling on bad experiences is unhealthy . . . and dwelling on good experiences can be, too.
Don’t be sad that a good experience is over. Instead, be grateful that it happened . . . and then choose to go and have more good experiences. There are people and opportunities in your present that deserve your attention.
Better to think of the past very little, and focus instead on today. Be thankful for what you have now, and don’t compare it to anything else.