The charm of childhood nostalgia

Many of us conjure the past as this rosy, idealised time when everything worked just fine.  For us, nostalgia reflects a yearning for simpler times sans the worry and complexities which abound adulthood. Those bittersweet memories act as a solace in times of loneliness which help us to believe in the perceived connectedness with others.

 by Khushboo Upreti                                             

We’ve all felt it. A chance glimpse of a tv commercial from our childhood, or a packet of ‘Fatafat’, and our mind inevitably takes us on a stroll down the memory lane. Nostalgia is one of the most evocative emotions felt by humans. The word ‘Nostalgia’ has its roots in the Greek language.  While ‘Nostos’ is a common theme in Greek literature, depicting an epic hero returning home, as in the case of the Odyssey, ‘Algos’ means ‘pain’. In effect, it combines the heroic act of returning home with hurt; the inability to go back to one’s roots and the ache that this longing causes.

Why do we fall on back on the childhood nostalgia? 

Many of us conjure the past as this rosy, ideal time when everything worked just fine.  For us, nostalgia reflects a yearning for simpler times sans the worry and complexities which abound adulthood. Those bittersweet memories act as a solace in times of loneliness which help us to believe in the perceived connectedness with others. Childhood, for many of us denotes a time when the future possibilities were endless. We could have been a superhero for all we cared with no one telling us that this field isn’t as respectable a profession as medicine. As children, we were mostly sheltered from all the oppressions and injustices which are characteristic of this world. We looked forward to growing up.  Being optimistic, carefree and blissfully ignorant are attributes we lost out on in the process of the growing up. Thus, we hark back to the past just to feel what life was like in those good ol’ innocent days one more time. In effect, nostalgia keeps us from the truth of the present and the pain of reality.

However, it’s important to remember that this wistful recollection of the past is based on nothing but a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, with the negative emotions from that time having been filtered out.  In other words, the past is never as rosy as it seems.

Why do millennials seem obsessed with it?

While childhood nostalgia is felt by all, its fever has gripped millennials like never before.

The millennials grew up at a time when technology was still evolving. It was the last generation which had a childhood sans such a pervading influence of technology. Thus, millennials were on the cusp of a technological revolution with different technologies becoming obsolete within a short span of time. Needless to say, those times when technology wasn’t omnipresent seem farther from the present than they actually are, thereby evoking a greater longing for the past. In fact, the millennials are often called the ‘indecisive generation’, wanting life to be technologically convenient while at the same time pining for a time when technology didn’t exist as intrusively as it does now.

Part of the phenomenon can be explained by the qualitative change in problems which has taken place. From having grown up in times of relative peace as the curtain drew on the cold war and economic resurgence courtesy structural adjustment programmes (SAP), we’ve entered into the uncertain realm of joblessness( nearly 31 million people in India are unemployed) and manifold issues like climate change, terrorism et al, surround us. Undoubtedly, the past seems like a better time.

Furthermore, the internet acts as a catalyst in amplifying such emotions. Thus, social networking sites are flooded with #tbts with the memories section of Facebook allowing people to get a glimpse into their past. A search on the internet under the phrase ‘things only 90s kids would understand’ throws up 20 million results. Recently, Spotify introduced the time capsule feature, providing its users with a personalised playlist of songs from their teenage years, which was an instant hit among people. Needless to say, the internet sustains the relevance of past for us.

How do markets capitalise on it?

Our pre-occupation with the past is effectively capitalised by markets. Since advertising is mainly about evoking emotions, markets often times tap into nostalgia to encourage us to buy a piece of memory, from a time when things were simpler and we thought we were happier. This trend seems to be on a rise lately as has been seen through remake of classics like Star Wars, renditions of yesteryear Bollywood songs besides styles like chokers and bell bottoms making a fashion re-appearance. What we now see is a calibrated re-selling of the past. It may not even be owing to lack of innovative ideas, just that tried and tested ideas are generally safer.

Salience of revisiting the past

While the memory of past may itself have been distorted to represent an ideal time, there’s no doubt that we lose out on certain crucial childhood qualities in the process of growing up.

Nowhere has this been more eloquently talked about than in the critically acclaimed French Novel ‘Le Petit Prince’. It underscores the significance of reclaiming the creativity of childhood. In the novel, there’s a sharp contrast between ‘big people’ who follow mindless pursuits at the expense of personal relations, get entangled in needless routines, and the protagonist, ‘Little Prince’ who values innovative thinking and forges deep bonds with a rose, a fox and a pilot.  It’s from him and his unusual friends that we learn words of wisdom. Childhood is a time when we’re more curious and keener to absorb and question the newness of every experience. This tendency fades as we reach adulthood and unquestioningly go about routine activities without stopping to reflect on their significance. We stop seeking new experiences and view reality from the prism of banality. Thus, there’s a need to revisit the past to imbibe the flexibility and curiosity of our childhood and combine it with the depth of maturity.

The simplicity of past may not come back but remembering our past and our sense of courage, curiosity, hope in the possibilities this world offers, spirit of innovation and our unconventional perspective of things which defined it, sure helps to lead more satisfying lives.

Khushboo Upreti is a writing analyst at Qrius