Growing old has much to recommend it – especially that you’re still alive to do it. One of those many things is to be able to look back on a life well-lived. Even though memories can be inherently selective, incomplete, and coloured (the First Law of Forgetting states: the longer ago something happened, the less chance we have of remembering it in detail), a characteristic of ageing is the desire to identify the years of our life: there’s much to cherish and affirm in that process of looking back.
It’s inevitable that older people will look back – live in the past, be nostalgic – even though we know that nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.
Living in the past seems pretty normal. For many people, it’s like putting together a simple autobiography. That’s why nostalgia is considered by many as a positive attitude toward the past that is related to aging and autobiographical memory.
While the word ‘ nostalgia’ was coined by a Swiss physician in 1678, its meaning has changed a bit since then and now we use the word as we look back to moments that have become idealised in our memory – the good old days. And when we talk of the good old days, we mean a time in the past when we believe life was better than it is today – myth overtakes reality.
However, we need to be careful about nostalgia; too much of a good thing might not be good for us. While all of us have a past, our life belongs to today and tomorrow.
It’s like Billy Joel sang: Say goodbye to the oldies, but goodies, because the good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.