The holiday season can be a real stab in the back. As you watch all those people with a bottle of champagne in their hands, and the fireworks playing the role of stars on a rainy night, you remain there, rustling your own pain. A deep pain that comes from a certainty that you will never get back what belongs to the past.

You will never have the same comfort of your childhood in the house of your parents, with zero responsibilities. You cannot go back to those moments of freedom on your grandfather’s farm because he is no longer there. You cannot go back to those incredible preschool days when all you were to worry about was what to play with.

You can no longer go back under your colourful blankets while watching a Disney classic and eating popcorn with your older sister on a winter afternoon; in the same way, you cannot ever rebuild a passion as sweet and innocent as you have had in your teenage years.

As you are trying to find your space as a person, conquer your independence as an adult, or probably have it all at once — without complications — makes sense that the simplicity and comfort of your childhood that is gone feels like a bittersweet pain.

I feel genuine empathy for your pain. In fact, I feel the same.

How we got to this emotional state of an idealized past

We place our nostalgia within a specific framework, which ends up being idealized. 

We deduce, because of the joyful recollections of some afternoons in the park, that our childhood was better than the life we now have.

Nostalgia, then, has just become a distorted idea of better days and times — which we constantly want to revisit. It is not a real re-creation of the past, but a combination of integrated memories that simply filter out our negative emotions.

When you feel nostalgia, you remember the positive emotions and moments of joy of your childhood, but you are not engraved with feelings of sadness and hurt. You do not remember the pain and anguish, just what your biased mind chooses to remember.

Because of this interest in resorting to nostalgia, it came to be seen as a lack of commitment to the future and a greater commitment to the past. This emotional state even came to be regarded as an emotional disorder in the 17th century.

Even though the experience of nostalgia was considered a disorder, this state cannot be a sign of depression. On the contrary, once more research has been done, it has been proven that nostalgia really works as an antidote to depression.

What’s the problem with being nostalgic, then?

Although it can be healthy to a certain extent, nostalgia keeps us dissatisfied with our reality in the present. Bear in mind that this emotional state distorts our past, making it a place better than where we are now.

Why nostalgia is so common at the end of the year

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

You are not alone.

If your pain of nostalgia was not intense enough, we all feel more pain to face at the end of the year — because of the uncertainties of the coming year.

At this point, we all know that another year of our life is ending. What started with a list of goals probably ended with a list of failures. All we have now is a year less to get in shape, to finish reading a book, or to take a sabbatic somewhere. 

It can be really difficult to deal with the pain of nostalgia and uncertainties combined, but all this may have a purpose that is worth recognizing. We should be aware that the same pain we might be feeling right now serves us as a reason to continue.

As we go through memories of happy times from the past, it can be an opportunity to rebuild our hopes for the future.

How to take your nostalgia to favour yourself

As much as sadness or happiness, nostalgia is a universal feeling. It is a state that all races, cultures and ages share. We all grew nostalgic about something from the past, even though your past is completely different from anyone else.

The great thing about understanding nostalgia as a common emotion it that we gain empathy for others — exactly the feeling that unites us as human beings. If was not because of our nostalgia, we would not know how to connect emotionally with those people with a ruined childhood, for example.

Because of these distorted and enjoyable qualities nostalgia provides, it also serves as an existential function. It brings to our mind experiences that assure we have had meaningful lives while rebuilding in our minds an idealization for our future.

In other words, by thinking about your life and the moments that make it up, you can find more value and meaning in everything you do from now on.

Now, as you say goodbye for another year, think of everything you’ve ever had a chance to experience in your life. Do not suffer for it or idealize those moments. Just let yourself feel.

Lastly, remember that the size of your pain is not greater than you are capable of carrying. May you be strong to take all of your memories with you, and may it give you reasons to move forward.