What Psychology Tells Us About the Nostalgia Paradox – Psychology Today

“One of the first things I do when I visit my parents’ home is to dig out old family photo albums and spread them out on the floor. I then sit down, and spend hours looking at all the pictures and reliving the memories attached to them.”

This anecdote was how I initially started this post on nostalgia. But then I thought about it a little more. I realized that I don’t usually do anything as dramatic as spreading out the photo albums on the floor. I take them out one by one, and most definitely do not spend “hours” at a time reliving my memories.

In essence, I had created a story that sounded nice and dramatic; I got nostalgic about my nostalgia.

The inaccuracy of our memories

Mark Twain apparently said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” The human brain appears to adhere to this philosophy quite religiously. If my brain were an unreliable narrator about something that happened only a year ago, is it even reasonable to expect that it would accurately recall memories of events that occurred decades previously?

In his TED talk, Daniel Kahneman makes the distinction between how we live our lives on a day-to-day basis (the experiencing self), and the stories we tell ourselves about our lives (the remembering self). The best example I can think of is that of childbirth – for the experiencing self, it is an excruciatingly