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Nostalgia and Rose Colored Glasses: Why Past Times Aren't Always Better.

By guest author Brittnay Sharman

Does nostalgia influence how you see the world?

Nostalgia and Rose Colored Glasses: Why Past Times Aren't Always Better.

Thinking about calling your old ex? Missing the good old college days? Here is why we always remember the past better than it was.

Let’s picture this: You are at work, feeling overwhelmed with the workload and going through a lot of stress. Your mind goes straight to the college days, to memories of freedom, less responsibility and being able to just go out and have fun with your friends. To most of us, college were the glory days, except on closer examination we seem to forget the stress of tests, trying to juggle all our assignments, and being constantly broke. But our mind usually goes for the positive memories. It’s more than nostalgia, it’s a cognitive phenomenon.

Is called rosy retrospection, also known as looking at the past through rose colored glasses. It’s a cognitive bias or a tendency to evoke the past in a more favorable light.

It’s also the reason why we seem to remake mistakes from the past. We exaggerate the good parts about our memories and minimize the negative ones. Another common example of “Rosy views” happens with past relationships, people get back together with partners that are far from ideal because they forget about the bad experiences with that person.

Don’t believe it yet? Think about it, you have been single for a while, you used Tinder, went on some dates, and then you feel a bit lonely, so you go on Facebook and look at your ex. You think about how handsome he is, how good he was in bed, the fun you had, how happy you were. All of the sudden you don’t seem to recall the fights, or the reasons why you weren’t compatible. Whatever was bad with that relationship doesn’t come to mind.

Is rosy retrospection always bad for you?

Not really, it can make us remember the positive, from times when we were too distracted with something else to appreciate it. It’s the reason why after a trip we don’t go around talking about the time we spent in line, or how bad was the traffic. We talk about the fun we had, and the views. A study even went on to show that while people on vacation at Disneyland, complained about the crowds, weather and food, they often had a more positive recollection of the experience with the past of time.  

Rosy views can also help our social bonds, that’s why when we meet with our college friends, we feel connected, and go on reminiscing about the “good old days”. Or why our grandparents always talk about “the simpler times”, they share nostalgic anecdotes about past days as a bonding experience. The things is that our memories aren’t always factual.

Much like our grandparents tend to leave out the struggles of their times, we are constantly tweaking our stories into a greater view. We remember things not for what they were, but for what they mean to us. Therefore, we make them better.

When we look back at the past, we minimize the negative in it, and sometimes that can be good for our mental health (a break up doesn’t seem so devastating after years, you no longer feel bad about failing a test). We do however have to be careful, idealizing the past can have damaging effects on the decisions we make. It can make it hard for us to analyze past behaviours, and repeat experiences that will cause us pain.

So next time you catch yourself thinking about better times, just remember that our memories can be selective, and we tend to edit it to our advantage. Looking at the past can be comforting and can help us bond with others. Unless you are thinking about calling that ex of yours, that is probably never a good idea.




About the Author:

Brittnay Sharman was an HR professional in London before making the move to Dublin. Now she spends her time exploring the beautiful canals, food and beaches of Dublin. Her love of travel and house sitting is captured on The Travelling House Sitters. Visit her site here:


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