Nostalgia is Reproducible
Earlier this year, I was reminiscing with some coworkers about video games from our childhood. From Myst to Need For Speed: Most Wanted to Super Smash Bros. Melee, we were obsessed with recounting every detail of our experiences, touting our reasons why this game or that game was amazing, how we’ve never had an experience like that game ever since.
As we sat discussing this around the table, it struck me that while each game couldn’t have been more different, our attitudes towards them couldn’t have been more similar. All of us remember the experiences vividly, warmly, nostalgically. If someone else had played the game, we’d excitedly say “Remember how you could do X!?” and then feel that satisfaction of them saying “Yes, I remember that!” We bonded over those closely held shared experiences.
I often think of nostalgia as being tied to a particular circumstance - that one time we went to Hawaii as a family, or that championship soccer game we won against all odds.
But that night with my coworkers led me to realize that nostalgia is actually tied to a particular state of mind. It’s that feeling of total immersion, curiosity, and present-mindedness. For nostalgic games, we remember the feeling of being lost in another world. We were completely immersed in it, wondering if there were enemies behind a door or loot inside a chest. We remember how it felt to share a deep connection to our friends through the games. We remember the wonderful state of mind of being a child.
The negative part of nostalgia is a feeling of “never getting it back.” That the good days are over and our prime is behind us.
But if nostalgia isn’t about a particular circumstance, but rather about a particular state of mind, then we can deterministically create experiences in the present day that are nostalgia-worthy. All we have to do is train ourselves to inhabit the state of wonder, curiosity, present-mindedness, and connection.
Sinking into the present moment allows us to not only fully enjoy our lives now, but to nostalgically enjoy the memory of them years later. When we reminisce, what will matter isn’t what we experienced, but how we experienced it.