Is living in the past a good thing?
I often get told I live in the past, usually when it comes to music. I reckon the 60s and 70s were the best decades for music, but then they were my formative years. I’m sure others prefer a different decade for similar reasons. Of course, they’re wrong, because the 70s were the best.
And when I complain about the price of a pint of beer or a coffee, again I get told to wake up and stop dreaming of 30p a pint or 50p for a gallon of fuel.
But this is a bit different, it’s nostalgia in a fond way that I can make my kids jealous because they have to pay £4.50 or £6.50 for a gallon of fuel.
Joking aside, living in the past can be unhealthy
The past is where our memories are from, hopefully we have more good memories than bad. We remember the good times, the good old days and perhaps do so with rose tinted spectacles – thinking things were better than they actually were.
Sometimes we prefer to live in the past because it’s familiar to us; it’s known to us and remembering the good times makes us feel happy and safe. Think back to a time that makes you happy. It may be when you were part of a sports team, the camaraderie between you and your team mates, or when you had that convertible sports car that you had, spending many hours driving with the top down, or the endless summer holidays when you were younger. We’re all happy at some point for many different reasons.
These memories are fine if you can recall them with fondness from a stage in your life, but if you find yourself constantly thinking about them or referring to them you may be living in the past. It may be that you are doing this because you don’t feel the same about the present, and can’t see that the future will be any better than it is now.
This is why it can be a problem. By being fixated with the past you can’t see the good things in the present, and you therefore deny yourself the chance to enjoy it. You become blinkered and miss out on what’s going on in your life now. If you can’t enjoy the present, then constantly comparing it with the past won’t help. By living in the past, you are effectively avoiding the problems in your life today.
I’m sure we would all like to look like we did when we were 18 or 25, or 35 – but the fact is, we grow older and so do our bodies. Yes, we should take care of ourselves by exercising and eating sensibly, but we should also accept the way we are now. Our lives go through stages and we should figure out what stage we’re at, and live in the moment. Yes, if we’re overweight or unhealthy we should do something about it but accept we won’t be as youthful looking as we were 20 years ago. Embrace the change.
Of course, when you get together with friends, reminisce about the good times, this is healthy and you’ll probably be remembering the funny things that happened to you or someone in your group.
Whenever I see one particular friend, which isn’t very often, he always recalls the time we went to watch an important football match for our local team, and the fun we all had that day. We didn’t stop laughing all day.
So laughter is good. But don’t forget to make new memories. If you haven’t seen those friends recently, have a get together of some sort – dinner, a barbecue, a drink out, and yes you’ll drag up those stories that are funny or embarrassing, but you’ll also find out what’s going on in their lives, and you may find that you still have common interests that you can share more regularly. Did you know one of your friends loves paddle boarding as much as you do but hasn’t got anyone to go with? Go together, make some memories. Did you know someone else is into yoga, or going to gigs, or wants to try open water swimming, but no-one wants to take the first step? If you find anything that you share with your friends but you too keep putting it off, then get together with them and enjoy it. Go with an open mind, give it a chance and if it really isn’t for you, try something else. But whatever you do, enjoy it if you can. Make new memories.
The future is uncertain, the past is comfortable. Some of us don’t like surprises, so we keep thinking and doing what we’ve always done. We worry that maybe, the best days of our lives are behind us.
You may be afraid of the future because you don’t know what it looks like. You try and avoid making long term plans and therefore feel stuck with your life as it is now because you have no plan. Remember – “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always have”.
This fear of the future can be unhealthy, and unless you can try and adopt a more positive and optimistic attitude, you run the risk of being stuck in the past, unhappy, and this will affect your mental health.
It may help you to take a step back and look at your life – are you happy? If not why not? Would you like to change?
Begin by looking at all the good things you have. It may be material possessions such as a nice house, car, the latest phone, or your family around you, your overall health or your job. Or it may be a lack of these things.
Perhaps make a list of goals you may have, a better job perhaps or early retirement, holidays or it may be just making the time to spend with family and friends. If you write these down, they seem real rather than a passing thought or a dream. Then work out how you can achieve these goals, again writing down how you’ll prioritise your friends over work, or how you’re going to pay for that holiday. Writing things down can act as reminders of what we want to do. Refer to it regularly and monitor your progress, and you’ll probably find that things aren’t as scary as you thought they were. You’ve built a problem up in your mind and convinced yourself it’s impossible to overcome so why bother trying? When you break it down it’s not as bad as you thought it was. Tackle the issue or goal gradually until you get to the end goal.
Some things, of course, are beyond our control, but the important thing is to realise this. Look at the situation, can you do anything about it? If not, accept it, let it go and you’ll feel better about it – but be honest with yourself. Don’t just decide you can’t do anything about it because it’s easier, think – do I want to do anything about this? Should I? Can I? If the answer is no, then accept it and move on. Don’t let it drag you down.
We all know that life is difficult some of the time and at some point we will have to deal with something we don’t want to. But keep these things in perspective. If we try and make our lives in the present more enjoyable, we’ll be more able to cope with the nasty stuff we have no choice over.
And you never know, the future may not be scary and will be brighter than you thought.