The Yearning for Nostalgia

“Whether it is an escape through our popular culture, a preference to revisit the past than to explore what may come in an unknown future, or to enjoy simply what we have been accustomed to, the power of nostalgia should not be underestimated.”

What is it about nostalgia that stirs such powerful emotions in us all? Why do we insist on revisiting, remaking, and reconstructing the past? This innate yearning that is part of being human, I would argue, is a part of gaining back some comfort and familiarity in an increasingly unfamiliar and complex world. Whether it is an escape through our popular culture, a preference to revisit the past than to explore what may come in an unknown future, or to enjoy simply what we have been accustomed to, the power of nostalgia should not be underestimated.

As the new year begins, looking at the popular culture, which reflects trends in our overall society, this yearning for nostalgia has only gotten more prominent in the recent years, especially with the continuing of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are multiple examples in pop culture where nostalgia is the rule rather than the exception. One example would include video games where remakes, sequels, and remastered games from the Halo series to Assassin’s Creed to Call of Duty are still the most popular even after being decades long in terms of their original creation.

Another example would be television shows where one of the most popular series released recently is ‘Cobra Kai’ whose origins come from the Karate Kid movies of the 1980s, but for which has had a rebirth with the same actors almost four decades later but also with new characters who compliment the original story. Other popular shows involve those from the ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Marvel’ series whose revitalizations include the bounty hunter Boba Fett (also from the 1980s as a character) and popularly known comic book heroes including ‘Loki’, ‘Captain America’, and ‘Hawkeye.’ While these comic book heroes may be new to some viewers, they also date back in their creation back to the 1990s or even earlier allowing their fans to indulge in their own nostalgia in seeing these comic book heroes come to the small screen.

I haven’t even mentioned the plethora of movies from ‘Licorice Pizza’ (1970s), ‘The Power of the Dog’ (1920s Western), ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ (1990s-2000s), released just in the past few months who pay homage to the past from settings we are familiar with or at least recognize. While there are films and TV series that do focus on mankind’s possible future(s), such as ‘Station Eleven’ on HBOMax or ‘The Expanse’ on Amazon Prime, most popular media today focuses on either adapted stories or at least remakes of stories with slight changes or new ideas related to the same characters to keep its popularity going.

In 2022, nostalgia sells the best, which is why new Halo video games, new Spider-Man movies, and new Game of Thrones books still rule the day in terms of our popular media consumption. Now, that does not mean that our appetite for new and original ideas in our popular culture are going extinct, but you can tell that we live in an age of rampant nostalgia, which is the norm rather than taking a chance or a risk on a new story or new ideas.

I believe that this resurgent nostalgia does have its positives to give people some familiarity with what they already know from their own past and for which they have experience in liking already. In addition, it can take more time to warm up to a new story, a new idea, or a new experience when it’s easier to go with something or someone you already know. Stories can change or adapt or get better sometimes over times and just because we are familiar with a character, or a series does not mean that it automatically gets boring after a certain point.

However, it is much easier to rely on nostalgia rather than to forge a new path. In anything in life and not just popular culture, it’s not as challenging to look back on what we’ve done, where we’ve been, or what we’ve experienced than to go forward, challenge oneself, and try new things. The impulse to be comfortable with what’s familiar rather than the unknown is a powerful force and an impulse that can be hard to overcome without pushing yourself. Nostalgia does not create lasting comfort though usually and it can be rather stale to rely on reliving things, experiences, or places rather than to look forward to unknown occurrences in the future.

Sequels, remakes, reshoots, adapted materials are harder to make better than the originals and they also do not break any new ground. Whether it is film, music, art, books, or in general, it may be easier to rely on nostalgia for creation but if it does not work out, it can be harder to bounce back from that failure. If you do something original or unique instead, it will stand out much more currently, and while you may polarize people who have gotten so used to nostalgia everywhere, you can be more wildly successful in your endeavor potentially and create a new cultural touchstone.

One great example from this past year that generated not only a cultural touchstone, but a worldwide phenomenon from Seoul to London to New York was the Netflix original series, ‘Squid Game.’ While the popular show contained elements from other TV series from the past, it had its own flair to it with unique set design, memorable characters, and a compelling and timely plot. It was the #1 TV series on the global streaming platform for over a month or so and generated important conversations in the public sphere regarding capitalism, income inequality, and debt servicing. The creators of the series took a big gamble, and they could have failed but they put their heart and soul into this unique show, and it paid off in more ways than one.

‘Squid Game’ and other original programming are a lesson for us all to not let our imaginations be stymied by what’s familiar and already known. Even in an uncertain world being continually upended by a pandemic and the effects of climate change, people want to be challenged to discover what’s new and what’s important. There is room in this world for both what’s new and what’s nostalgic. I think our problems begin in society when we only crave what’s comfortable or only what’s nostalgic to us. If we only choose to focus on what we already know, we won’t be able to face what’s new or on the horizon for us. It is not good to dwell only on what’s past and to rehash forever and ever what we already like rather than not trying to discover what we may like or embrace in the future that can help us learn more about the world around us.

A Pleasant Vision

“The cool, ocean breeze blows the wisps of water onto my face and my hair with the soft rustle of the wind refreshing and relaxing me as the sunset envelopes the bright horizon leaving just one solid line of distinction on the horizon to separate the sea from the sky.”

The sand beneath me is coarse yet soft as it envelopes my feet and legs whole as I begin to pull myself up after admiring the waves lapping up to cool my body and soothe my worries as if I were in a welcome trance. Looking around at the vast sunset before me, the canvas of colors from blue to yellow to orange to pink, light up the seascape village I find myself near to but still so far away from. The cool, ocean breeze blows the wisps of water onto my face and my hair with the soft rustle of the wind refreshing and relaxing me as the sunset envelopes the bright horizon leaving just one solid line of distinction on the horizon to separate the sea from the sky.

I am wearing all-white as I pick myself up out of the sand and I see the shimmering lights behind me of a picturesque village where there is laughter, unknown music, and the smell of delicious food cooking over an open flame. After the sun sets over the village, I feel the distinct urge to go towards the village where everything and nothing seems familiar to me at the same time. The shimmering lights help me as I climb from the base of the beach up through the rocky hillside feeling at ease even as my bare feet climb over the rocks and shrubbery covered boulders.

As I climb higher and higher to the top of the hillside that juts out of this mountainous formation, the sound of people in different languages laughing heartily, the sounds of beautiful music playing in a sweet symphony as to not clash with the people’s joy. The smells of enticing foods, which become more and more familiar to me that come either from a distant past or of a future yet to come. The arduous hill climbing causes me to stumble and rest prematurely but I am undeterred. I do not bleed and while I tire, I do not fall back. Eventually, I make my way to the entrance of this pristine yet unfamiliar village with cobbled streets and stucco walls. Each of the village homes I walk past have large windows but no one’s inside, the walls are white or pastel-colored, and the arches speak to a grandeur of which I immediately fall in love with.

The windows and doors are arched with beige or dark red clay roof tiles with outdoor space with gardens likely filled with lush tomatoes and other plants to grow one’s own food. Surprisingly, I encounter women and men dressed from different eras on these cobbled streets who greet me in the languages of my ancestors. They have carriages and horses with them and exchange pleasantries with me as I pass them by on the way to the party. While I do not know them, they know me and perhaps they’ve known me my whole life. Even though I am tired from my journey, my hunger and thirst apparent to them all, they whisper words of belonging and encouragement in my ears and tell me that, “everyone is waiting for me.”

Who is everyone? Is it my friends? My family? My loves of past, present, or future? Where am I? Questions wash over me, but I am not anxious. It’s that strange sense of anticipation that comes after a fortuitous journey where my last destination is not known but I have no doubt of where it is that I am supposed to go. I am here for a reason and while I do not know when, where, or how I got here, I finally know that I have a destination in mind that may be what I was looking for all along.

Once I get there, the high, wooden entrance of a pure white village house made of solid brown doors swing wide open for me as an honored guest. There are sturdy, mahogany tables filled with known faces who have known me throughout my life and unknown yet familiar faces who I may be related to by blood or folks who I don’t remember as a child or baby but have also met them at one point or another. The tables and chairs seem to go on forever up to the edge of the hillside looking out on the moon, the sea, and the stars as gloriously bright as can be with no way not see hundreds or thousands in the night sky. Ornate dining sets have been set up with wine goblets and delicious foods with peaceful music playing in the background and it seems everyone is waiting for me to arrive to begin the meal together.

Everybody at each table is dressed up in their own regalia from the era they lived in and are at the age that they most would like to be remembered by. Surprisingly, while each person is exchanging languages with each other that they themselves may not speak, they are somehow being instantaneously translated so everyone can understand one another even while having not been from the same century or same continent.

It dawns on me that this is exactly where I’m meant to be. The food is as delicious as can be, the wine and other drinks plentiful, and everyone is enjoying each other’s company with pure joy and happiness lighting up the evening. They all know me as if I were a family…which I am. Many hugs, kisses, and handshakes are exchanged as each of my ancestors and family members encourage me to join them at the table through a night that seems to stretch across time like a flowing river.

I am the latest to arrive to the celebration here, but it feels like they’ve all been waiting a while for me to join them here at this heavenly setting. There is no mention of anything negative in the conversations I have. We don’t highlight my or their own Earthly failures, setbacks, heartbreaks, and tragedies. There is just happiness, joy, warmth, and discussing the fine setting and meal we find ourselves enjoying together after having been apart. There are no hard feelings, no pain, no remorse, no odd person out, as we are a whole family again united after all this time, which feels like just yesterday we were all together but may have been decades, centuries, or millennia since our paths have crossed. If this is heaven, I ask myself, it is certainly a pleasant vision of it.

Fear of The Unknown

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“I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

Why do people sometimes have a fear of the unknown? As human beings, we each have our own unique doubts, fears, and phobias that develop as we deal with the world and its’ challenges. Whether they are fears related to heights, spiders, snakes, or even speaking in front of a large audience, it’s part of what makes us human to have fears. Facing and confronting your fears is not an easy struggle and it takes courage, compassion, and emotional maturity to get past your phobias. One of the most common fears that most of us have from time to time is ‘Fear of the Unknown.’

To have a strong desire to control your circumstances, your path in life, and your future is only natural. However, it’s clear that some things can never be fully known and that there will be changes that we will have to cope with. Trying to control everything and everybody around you is a recipe for disaster. Facing the unknown without fear is not easy but it is necessary in order to become a more mature and more centered person. Fear of the unknown is related to other fears that people have which have a connection to one another such as the fear of death, the fear of getting old, the fear of being homeless, the fear of life changes, etc.

There’s a popular saying that goes, “You always fear what you don’t understand.” This quote ties into a central idea that people fear most what they cannot change, anticipate, or prevent from happening. Some examples of this phenomena include economic recessions, societal changes, job loss, personal loss, election results, retirement planning, health problems, environmental concerns, etc. All of these phenomenon tie into the overall ‘fear of the unknown’ for the average man or woman. None of these phenomena can be controlled or even changed by one individual. Since we cannot usually have a great effect on preventing these fears from becoming real or taking place in our lives, what can we do or what should we do?

It’s best not to resist the changes that are bound to happen at some point in our lives. We simply cannot know everything that is to occur in the future and it would be useless to try to plan for everything ahead of time. Most of the time, it’s best to go with the flow, try best not to fight what comes your way, and to make the most out of things. Do not give in to fear, hate, doubt, disappointment, and anger, which are all negative consequences that come with fearing the unknown and the unseen. Having fear about what can happen a week, a month, a year, or a decade from today is a waste of time because you simply can’t know what exactly lies ahead in the future.

The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to be adaptable and malleable to the future. Trying to plan everything out is a waste of time and energy. While seeking stability, security for yourself and others is an important part of the human condition. Sometimes, you need to cope with some instability and insecurity that will come your way. Another notable saying that people rely on for strength is the popular quote; “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Persistent fear of what’s to come is not productive, not enjoyable, and not healthy for anyone in the long-term.

What happens to most people when they feel a palpable sense of fear? Well, there are a number of common symptoms and ailments that one can experience as a result. Your heart rate starts to increase, and your breath will become shorter and more harried. You may begin to panic, and feel an enormous sense of tension in your body. You’re going to be anxious and stressed about the unknown and what you’re going to do about it. The more extreme symptoms of feeling fear involve nausea, fainting, vomiting, crying, and shaking uncontrollably. I mention these reactions to fear not to scare my readers but so you can better learn to recognize these symptoms and try to control and alleviate them as best as you can.

Now that we know what the ‘Fear of the Unknown’ is and how to classify it along with the related symptoms, how can we cope we this fact of life? The most important thing to keep in mind when confronting this particular fear is to stay positive about what’s to come. Not everything in life will go smoothly and there will be challenges ahead. However, it’s important to remove the negative associations, conclusions that your mind will come up with sometimes when it comes to thinking and planning for the unknown. A little bit of anxiety and stress is natural when it comes to facing the future but it should not affect your daily activities and your personal relationships.

You’ll have a more peaceful state of mind when you react to the strange and unforeseen future with a positive and upbeat outlook. It’s best to focus on your goals, stay focused, and don’t get sidetracked about what might or what not happen to you in the future. Changing your thoughts and your mindset through meditation for five to ten minutes on a daily basis can also be a great self-help remedy for getting rid of your fear of the unknown.

Embracing a new environment, new friends, and new work opportunities can also keep your imagination in the right state of mind. If your sense of anxiety and fear of the unknown is extremely strong and hard to break, it may be best to consider neurolinguistic programming, cognitive behavioral therapy, and even certain medications if the problem becomes that severe. However, these kinds of remedies should be used only as a last resort.

Having a sense of ownership and direction in our lives is extremely important. However, we cannot control everything especially the unknown that lies ahead. Whether its’ moving to a new city or country, jumping into a dark lake, starting a new job or hiking up a mountain, these are all instances in life that can give us reasons to worry and to be anxious. However, by controlling our thoughts and emotions, and having the ability to stay positive regardless of the circumstances will keep you both mentally and physically fit.

As the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt stated famously during his 1st inaugural address to the American people on the subject of facing the Great Depression, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself.”

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