Nostalgia and Regret are good liars

Published by Peter on

Some of my clients express feelings of regret or occasionally nostalgia. But nostalgia and regret are very good liars.

Nostalgia tells you that the past was better in so many ways, and you’ve lost something meaningful but unidentifiable in the passage of time. If only you could return things to the way they were, you would be happier than the way things are headed.

a sad woman thinks back to a happy time filled with frolic and flowers and bright colors, one representation of nostalgia and regret
The past is often seen as brighter and happier than it was.
Image created by Adobe Express generative AI

Regret tells you that your past mistakes have damaged your future in irreversible ways. Your life is going to be terrible compared to what it could have been, and there’s nothing you can do about that now. If only you could undo what was done.

Wallowing in nostalgia or regret feels gratifying when you’re in a malaise.

They’re the sugar and caffeine of emotional wellbeing. They provide a brief burst of powerful emotion by feeding our need to be the center of every story, but really they’re gumming up our wellbeing with toxic junk.

Both regret and nostalgia lie to you by keeping your attention focused on a very narrow slice of the past.

Nostalgia over-romanticizes a time that was far more complex and troubled than your memory presents. And regret zooms in on individual events until those events overwhelm your entire view of things.

But as Billy Joel and the Washington Post point out, the good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.

An anxious man in a business suit holds his hands to his head, one representation of nostalgia and regret
Rueing mistakes takes up way too much of our mental energy.
Image created by Adobe Express generative AI

There’s a difference between reminiscing about good times, and letting nostalgia drive your worldview. And there’s a difference between examining and learning from past mistakes, and getting stuck in defeatism.

Just like there’s a difference between enjoying a sweet treat now and then, and basing your entire nutritional intake on candy and energy drinks.

Wellbeing depends on balance, and balance can only be achieved when it’s based on a full and complete and objective view of things. This is true with individuals, with organizations, and with societies.

Nostalgia and regret are only two of the ways our view gets limited, but they are both very powerful ones and hard to overcome.

Because they are very good liars.

I can help.

I work with top executives and middle managers to improve their leadership skills, their workplace culture, and the effectiveness of their teams. Also, I help individuals identify and achieve their personal goals. Would you like to become more aware, be more effective, be more empowered, and feel fully prepared for your next steps?

Let’s talk.

You can help.

Think of one person who would benefit from reading this post. Sharing is caring! Forward it to them right now. They will think you’re super smart and well informed.

Stay informed.

Be sure to join my email list! Get notified of new posts here as well as new courses, books, and events from me both here and at Gray Bear Publications.

Categories: Life


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *