Health & Wellbeing

Anticipatory Nostalgia: Missing what hasn’t passed

Ever had that feeling of long-awaited excitement dissipate into a sense of sadness in the moment? Charlotte Lloyd explores this concept of Anticipatory Nostalgia.

Have you ever looked forward to something for so long, and when it finally comes around, it seems to go by in the blink of an eye? There’s a feeling of sadness because you know it won’t last forever? An easy example for me would be attending a concert. My Dad and I bought Queen tickets around a year ago and we went to their concert in February. We looked forward to it for almost an entire year and it was over within the span of around 2 hours. During the concert, I couldn’t help but have an overwhelming feeling of sadness. So, what is with this paradox? Why does the feeling of loss often trump the feeling of happiness? It is called anticipatory nostalgia.

‘Anticipatory Nostalgia,’ seems ungrateful and even selfish, to grieve over something that hasn’t even passed, enjoying something so much and then realising it will eventually end so that feeling of joy evaporates and a gloom washes over you. However, if this were to be flipped, the feeling of sadness actually means that the moment you’re in is something that is a once in a lifetime kind of thing, or a moment that won’t come around again any time soon, like a holiday for example. By looking ahead to it being over, this gives us the opportunity to savour it and make sure we can recall it from memory or even by a souvenir. By knowing that we will be looking back on this moment with great pleasure your brain can understand the importance of making the most of it while you have the time.

The term ‘nostalgia’ is derived from a Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer in 1688 and is described as a “morbid longing to return to one’s home or native country.” It was, during this time, considered a severe type of homesickness and had a negative perspective as it was treated as a disease in itself. The term was coined when treating soldiers, slaves, convicts, and sailors, who, when told they were able to return home temporarily, lost all saddened feelings of ‘nostalgia’. But today, we do not long for a specific place in the past but rather a moment; a chance to recapture the feelings we were experiencing.

It can be hard to have a feeling of gratefulness and joy with the events happening all around us. The unprecedented events cause unpredictable physical and mental stress that can mean our priority of happiness can often be pushed to the wayside. And it has been said that;

“We like to seek out the warmth of the past when things are not going well in the present.” – Hedwig Wiebes

And this cannot be more true to the circumstances surrounding us. By looking at past memories and happy times, we can feel grateful for what we’ve already experienced (nostalgia) and look forward to what we are going to experience post-COVID-19. Everything is temporary and despite this meaning some of the best times of our lives, it is also true for some of the worst.

Sometimes we don’t realise how much a moment means to us until it has passed. So in fact, a feeling of temporality is actually a very good thing, because by knowing that nothing lasts forever, including life itself, we can make the most of what we do have. I learned this through one of my favourite chic-flick movie characters – Jenna Rink from ‘Suddenly 30′ (2004) (also titled ’13 Going on 30’), who said:

“I think all of us want to feel and remember something that we’ve forgotten or turned our backs on. Because maybe we didn’t realise how much we were leaving behind.”

And it was Frank Ostaseki, an American Buddhist teacher who explained in his book ‘The Five Invitations,’ why the temporality of experiences and life are so important to how we live our lives;

“It is the impermanence of life that gives us perspective. As we come in contact with life’s precarious nature, we come to appreciate this. Then we don’t want to waste a minute. We want to enter our lives fully and use them in a responsible way.”

‘Anticipatory Nostalgia,’ should not be looked on as negative, because by knowing that the moments we are experiencing are unique and special to us, we can live each moment to the fullest, because it is the temporality that makes memories, and life itself so worthwhile.

This article was inspired by Hedwig Wiebes ‘Anticipatory Nostalgia’ article in ‘Flow Magazine.’


Feature Image: Collage design by Charlotte Lloyd using the below images.
Top Image: William Bout via Unsplash
Middle Image: Iwan Shimko via Unsplash
Bottom Image: Gemma Evans via Unsplash
Right Image: Nick Dietrich via Unsplash

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