In the not too distant past, most of us lived through an immensely satisfying and glorious period in the history of music, where musical artists would put out new albums every year or two, continuously crafting new songs and exploring new territory while expanding their back catalogs for current and future fans. During this period, it was not uncommon to be able to purchase a decent concert ticket for $25 and those concerts were always in support of a new album. Then, the music industry shifted. In part, digital sales and streaming began surpassing physical albums. At the same time, many established musical acts made the more lucrative conscious decision to simply stop creating new music and spend more of their time playing the hits of their past on tours with set lists that look nearly identical every few years. I could rant for hours about why I think these shifts have been bad for the music industry and its fans, but I’ll save that for another day.
During this shift, something else happened. Established musical acts (and their promoters) began increasingly turning up the prices on concert tickets. These days, it’s increasingly common to see ticket prices eclipse $125 just to get in the door and sit in the nosebleed seats. Why? Because they can get away with it! Why can they get away with it? For the same reason that fans clamor for the hits during live shows and take a seat on the rare occasion that an artist has the guts to not only create new music but then perform it during a live show…
It’s the same reason why we buy sports memorabilia to remind us of our favorite players, teams, and memorable moments.
It’s the same reason why we will pay money for movie sequels that aren’t in the same league as their prequels.
It’s the same reason that we try to recreate vacations or other memorable moments from our childhood.
It’s the same reason why we repurchase favorite childhood toys.
It’s the same reason we purchase a new version of a sports car or motorcycle that we had or wanted in our younger glory days.
It’s the same reason we hold on to clothing we no longer wear, but are afraid to give up because we feel like it’s part of our identity.
It’s the same reason that we hold on to items that give us a memory of loved ones… to the point of even needing to buy larger homes or new storage to hold on to them.
One definition of “nostalgia” describes it as:
a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
In our search for happiness, there is something deep within the human psyche that leads to us wanting to rediscover, recreate, and relive the past. A more damning, but more accurate definition is:
a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.
“Irrecoverable” is the key word with nostalgia. No matter how much time or money we spend, we can’t quite recapture that feeling or moment from the past. And the paradoxical irony and cruelty of nostalgia is that the harder we try, the harder we fail and the emptier we feel. In many cases, we think that the solution to the void that we feel when we search for happiness and meaning through nostalgia is to try to obtain even more nostalgia. In that way, nostalgia is like an addictive drug. More and more is required for smaller and smaller dopamine hits.
Financially, the negative effects of chasing nostalgia can be profound. A nearly identical (continuously aging) concert every few years for a few hundred bucks a pop times multiple artists? That adds up. An ever-expanding collection of rare memorabilia, toys, records, clothing, games, or other trinkets? That adds up. Expensive recreations of old vacations? Sports cars? Purchasing your childhood home? Buying, maintaining, storing, and insuring all this? The real cost of stuff all adds up. Chasing or not chasing nostalgia alone could be the difference between a healthy retirement or one that is barely scraping by. Or, when 64% of the country lives paycheck-to-paycheck, it could be the difference between financial solvency or not.
While the financial costs of nostalgia can be destructive, the psychological effects can be at least as damaging. Infrequent reminiscing or recollection of the past can have short-lived positive effects on the psyche, but anything more than that often becomes increasingly problematic. There is an emptiness, sadness, and longing that comes attached to nostalgia. At some point, many of us shift from creating new memories to chasing old ones, to watching old home videos instead of creating new ones, to talking about the past instead of living in the present. And that’s not the ticket to a fulfilling life. As always, we should question every purchase. But, with nostalgia, also question the motivation behind the pursuit and the effect when it is obtained. In almost every case, your present and future self will find that it is better to leave the past in the past and shift your focus to the here and now.