I am rather well-acquainted with these three ideas. I believe nostalgia and anxiety are linked closely together, bound by a central idea, certainty, while depression is both a cause and result of nostalgia and anxiety. Nostalgia is for the past, anxiety is for the future, and depression bridges them. Everything in the past seems better in hindsight. This is because we know what happened. Whether good or bad, these memories will seem much greater than they generally were. I believe this relates to two things. When we feel depressive nostalgia, it is generally accompanied by a feeling that our current life is not as good as the life we used to live. Thus, when we look back on good memories, we realize how much we took those times for granted. I know for myself, there are two times in my life I will always look back on: seventh grade and twelfth grade. These were times of great personal change in my life; seventh grade was when puberty really kicked in and I feel like I was growing up at such a fast rate; twelfth grade, namely the spring of twelfth grade, was a time when I became much more social, and it felt like I was catching up on many social milestones I had missed out on in high school. I think they key part of these experiences for me was that they were, consciously or not, very hopeful. Things were changing and they seemed to be getting better. Depressive nostalgia most often visits in time when we feel trapped in our present lives, feel as if things either aren’t changing or (more so) are changing for the worse. This depressive nostalgia, whether induced by a song, place, or movie, is incredibly strong, often to the point of being debilitating. As regards certainty in this type of nostalgia over happy memories, we wish we could go back and relive a time of great hope for a better future, and also in a more general sense, to appreciate those times more. I look back on many events in my life that I either took completely for granted or actually perceived as negatives at the time and wonder what the hell was I doing?
On the other side of nostalgia, we have nostalgia for times in our lives that were negative. Here the idea of certainty is more obviously pertinent. If we feel this type of nostalgia when in a more positive mood, it is generally because we know that our lives were not completely derailed; that we did recover from whatever trauma afflicted us; that we survived. So we look back and wish, instead of wasting my time being upset, why didn’t I just enjoy my life more. Case in point; I crashed my car at the start of twelfth grade, and didn’t have it for about a month. The bill on the car went from a first estimate of $500 up to a final total of a few thousand dollars. This resulted in my having to get a job from the first time, which I pretty much hated. I was very depressed for a good long while around the months of October and November into December, but now I look back and wonder why didn’t I appreciate all the other things that were nearing an end: final time playing soccer, the reality of high school nearing an end. Instead of hanging out with my friends and appreciating my life as much as possible, I sat around and sulked away a few months of the last year of my childhood. But didn’t I say I wish I could go back to that time? I do in the sense that I know things got better; the depression and isolation didn’t last, soon I was starting to enjoy life more than I had before.
Whatever the case, nostalgia is always linked with certainty. The past is done, we cannot imagine our lives having happened any other way than they did. As such, there is always a sense that life goes on when we view the past that allows us to take some small comfort in it.
In opposition to nostalgia we have anxiety. Where nostalgia is a sense that the past was better than it was and is often accompanied by a desire to relive the good ol’ days, anxiety is the opposite. Anxiety is a fear of the future, which comes with thoughts that generally lead one to believe things will be worse than they actually will. Where nostalgia makes us want to go back and relive moments, anxiety makes us want to avoid things that haven’t happened yet. For instance, as a college student I am anxious about my future: anxious about what job I will get, anxious about grades I have to get, anxious about yet more responsibilities for me to deal with. I often wish that I could either slow time down or else skip ahead to the future when I won’t have this uncertainty anymore. No matter what, we always hold at least of shred of doubt when looking at the future; even if the skies are bright and sunny, it only takes one freak accident for our lives to go very wrong. While we are often filled with hope for the future, there is always the possibility that things will not turn out as we would like; conversely, when looking at the past, we don’t have to worry about what happened because it is done; we have certainty over the past.
Lastly, I would like to discuss the role of anxiety in causing depression and nostalgia. As you may or may not know, I have struggled with depression and anxiety all my life, often to the point of being incapable of any of doing anything other than isolating myself from the world and dwelling on my fears. Now, as previously explored, anxiety is often a cause of nostalgia. When we fear the uncertainties of the future or feel as though the future will be worse than the present we turn back to the past, when these worries did not afflict our minds, when life seemed to be getting better. When anxiety is induced in this manner, it will most likely be depressive, especially if one is prone to anxiety. I can speak from personal experience to say that in moments of great worry or fear for the future, I often want to simply curl and hid away from the world, go back to the past when things didn’t seem so bad. I then become depressed because, not only does my past life seem better by comparison, I am also not doing anything to help myself out of my current situation, adding a feeling of hopelessness to the proceedings. While anxiety itself isn’t necessarily depressive, when it is frequent or overwhelming, as it often can be for myself, it becomes very depressive, and I believe this trait of anxiety is in many ways what truly makes it a debilitating condition rather than one which will immediately inspire someone to go and fix their situation.
I would like to, in closing, leave you with a hypothetical question to consider: If you could go back in time to relive certain periods of your life at the tradeoff of, any time spent in the past would still count towards your allotted time here on Earth, would you do it? In other words, if your body would normally live to the age of seventy and you spend twenty years over time in reliving the past, you would end up only living to fifty. Let’s say for argument that each time you returned to the actual present you would have an increased understanding of the past, whether for better or worse. Would it become addictive to go and relive the “best days” again and again, or we come to realize they weren’t as good as we remember and thus move on? How much of our future would we be willing to give away in order to relive our past? How much of an uncertain but possibly better future would we give up for a certain but possibly less fulfilling past? Questions with no easy answers; I encourage you if nothing else, to consider them some cloudy day.