Why do I reminisce so hard about the past?

I find myself remembering periods of time from 2-5 years ago and thinking "wow those were the days". But in reality, I didn't feel unusually happy at the time. Why do our brains work this way? I wish I could feel as strongly about my life today as I do about my life 3 years ago.

I also find myself saying "I wish I did more" when I was in [x city] or [x year of college]. Yet here, I am tonight. Just got off work at 6:30 and had several hours to do almost anything I wanted. But instead I played CS:GO for two hours and ate ice cream.

Is anyone else like this?

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Comments (18)

Jun 23, 2022 - 8:32am
Sequoia, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Almost thought this post was written by me as that's exactly how I feel. Whenever I feel hardcore nostalgic for long stretches (like I'm currently experiencing), it means I'm not happy with my life NOW. And the periods where there was nostalgia were the ones where as you say I had hope for the future & felt there was such an amazing world out there.

I have a 6-fig job now working 50hrs a week in my mid-20s. Yet I'm not happy with the state of things today, everything from the city where to I live to my dating life to my friend circle to my fitness. And then there's the challenges of working with a psychotic manager. What I've done though is identify all of the things that I'm disatissfied with and am working to change them...check with me back in 1yr but I feel as if that happiness that I'm longing for is just out of reach but I can almost grasp it

Jun 22, 2022 - 6:54pm
Arroz con Pollo, what's your opinion? Comment below:


It's because you aren't happy with your present. 

100% accurate. You look back on times that were better than now and think "wow so much fun", but many times, you're just stuck in such a rut that anything is better.

What may help is to set some goals for yourself. If you view every day as an opportunity to improve, life won't become stale. Covid really fucked up my schedule, and since it began, I have played over 45 days of Call of Duty. Nearly a month and a half of my life was spent sitting on a couch playing vide games. That's insane.

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Jun 23, 2022 - 8:36am
Sequoia, what's your opinion? Comment below:

10000% true. What are your recommendations for how to 'get' happy with the present? I'm going the route of fixing everything I'm disatissfied with but wonder if there are any general tips 

Jun 22, 2022 - 5:07pm
Dick Steele, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I feel this way sometimes. Think about old friends who have gone off in different directions, stuff we used to do, etc. like you say, I don't even remember even being that happy or anything. It's the power of nostalgia I suppose. I'm actually in a better spot now but I need to stop wasting time, try to fill my day with more stuff to do and more hobbies instead of the usual. I don't have a cure for it but I don't think it's unusual to feel the way you do.

Jun 22, 2022 - 6:19pm
InvestmentSpanker, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I played for the first time in 5-6 years a couple weeks ago so I'm silver 1 or 2. I was ranked somewhat high one summer during college (the rank where the logo changes to an AK or Something?)

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Jun 22, 2022 - 7:07pm
Isaiah_53_5 💎🙌💎🙌💎, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Honestly, I feel the 20s are filled with freedom and no responsibility. When I hit my 30s, I finally had to be responsible. For me a large part was taking care of family. I have less freedom now because I am taking care of my family. But, taking care of my mother hits close to my heart. She has dementia. I visit her 5x per week with my dad. She doesn't recognize anyone except me. Think of how that makes me feel. Every time she sees me she hugs me like we haven't seen each other in 10 years. I bring my headphones and let her listen to her favorite music for 1hr and it means everything to her. She claps and laughs and is happy. I had to search for years for a job that lets me be a caregiver and in finance. But, I promised my parents I would be there for them until the end, so I take these responsibilities. I had nothing this heavy in my 20s and barely even talked to my parents but once every 2 weeks or so when I was in NYC

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

  • 12
Jun 22, 2022 - 9:12pm
Isaiah_53_5 💎🙌💎🙌💎, what's your opinion? Comment below:

To note, my dad was 46 and my mom was 44 when I was born. So my parents are in their 80s now. 

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Jun 23, 2022 - 6:47am
GoLiftSomeWeightsBro, what's your opinion? Comment below:

you need to set concrete, meaningful goals (whatever that means to you). Then make a plan and execute that plan one day at a time.

The only times I used think about "the good old days" and any regrets from the past is when I am sitting around doing bumfuck nothing. 

Jun 23, 2022 - 10:45am
Global_IU_11, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I think it's a common theme on this site for a significant amount of people to put their entire worth as a human in their career progression. As you get older, you realize that while money is a great thing to have, there is a lot more to life. Ultimately, you're not going to be talking to your loved ones about deals you've executed on your death bed and you can't take the prestige or money with you either.

I think consistent nostalgia is a result of not being fulfilled in the present and probably means you need to work on building, repairing, or gaining new relationships in your life. While I enjoy the occasional video game, it's not at all a replacement for genuine human connection. Even if you aren't achieving something in your career, I'd recommend getting outside, joining a few clubs, intermural sports, bowling leagues, cooking classes, nonprofits, or whatever else and broaden your horizons a bit. The other purpose that serves is that you won't be idle enough to sit around and think about all of the good times... you'll be active building a new/better reality for yourself.

Jun 24, 2022 - 3:13pm
Deal Team Six, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I always look back and think fondly of my summer going into my freshman year of college. I had zero responsibilities and expectations, and it was one of the most enjoyable periods of time in my life. All I needed was $20 to chip in toward a beer run and my friends and I partied in some capacity every night. Not sure if you have a similar time period you reference, but I think the better question is, how could you not? 

However, for context, I was a very sub bar HS student who had no future roadmap, was constantly getting in trouble, and had sky high anxiety at all times, because I knew I was on track to amount to nothing. 

For me, life got real in college, and unlike most people, my partying stopped almost entirely, and I started hitting the books. I lived in the library, had a small social circle, and rarely had GFs or even went out with girls. Ever since then, I have been grinding pretty hard, and haven't really felt "care-free" since. What my brain fails to acknowledge is that in the moment, back during that one perfect summer going into freshman year, I was actually not that happy either. I was devastated because I was going off to the other side of the country and my friend group was splitting up for the first time. I was extremely concerned that I wasn't college material due to hardly applying myself for the entirety of high school. I was bummed my friends were scoring more girls than me, seemingly most of the time. My relationship with my immediate family was always sensitive because I wasn't meeting their expectations (which in hindsight were 100% reasonable). 

To summarize, the issue is that as life demands creep in our 20s and through our 30s, it is natural to look back at a simpler time, and to romanticize it. Life is always relative, and now that things have "worked out" for me, the premise of being able to relive that summer (especially given what I know now) couldn't be more idyllic. 

To return to your thesis question, what do I do about it, I have a couple thoughts:

1. I try to appreciate the fact that I was able to make a lot of mistakes and had a few years where I just focused on having fun, disregarding the consequences at all costs. I look back and realize how fortunate I was, and that I was able to regain focus academically and career-wise, to mend those family relationships, to figure out why my friends got more girls than me, and to hold on to all of those life-long friendships, to do all of that with zero long-term consequences. That is truly privilege.

2. I also try and hold myself accountable for glamorizing that summer too much. I make a strong effort to remember that day-to-day, it really wasn't a utopian lifestyle, and that I was struggling a lot. I also try to remember just how close I was to making irreversible mistakes, and that if I hadn't turned a corner after my brutal 1st semester performance, I would likely be working a dead end job with no future. 

I hope this narrative isn't too specific to my own experience to lose the message I'm trying to develop, one that relates to a far broader audience. In short, life gets meaningfully harder, and there were certain periods of most young people's lives that were simply more care-free, and it is only natural to long for that. Unfortunately, life doesn't have a reverse button, and our increasing responsibilities will continue to grow well into our 40s and 50s, which means we can only do our best to make the best of our free time. 

One thing I constantly do is try to really ensure I enjoy my limited free time is doing an annual trip with my friends. It is one of the only times I stop being unbearably frugal and I go all out (last year we rented a $2k a night villa in Hawaii for a little over a week). I do my absolute best to save my meager PTO and spend it on a worthwhile endeavor. The older I get the only thing I continue to appreciate more and more is my time with the people I care about. No matter how brutal work is, I make a constant effort to see my closest friends or family every single weekend. Tonight will be a classic rock concert with my old man. I have found that keeping these relationships as high priority and treating them as essential (just like critical routine maintenance, e.g., going to the gym, going to the dentist) has allowed me to live in the present as much as possible. 

Jun 24, 2022 - 4:00pm
InvestmentSpanker, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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