Why are we getting nostalgic?

Cited from People

Perhaps you have noticed that we are being densely wrapped in nostalgia. Cultural materials belonging to the last decade, two decades or even three decades are once again on the table, being re-measured and digested by us. Wang Xinling's song "Love You", released in 2004, became a hit again this spring, triggering the archaeological trend of Taiwanese idol dramas; the variety show "The Sound of Life" has aroused nostalgia for the golden years of Hong Kong's music industry; the 11-year-old TV series "Legend of Donnie Yen" was "plated out"; when Liu Yifei appeared in the new film "The Dreaming", the 17-year-old character "Zhao Ling'er" and "Legend of the Immortal Sword and Wonderful 1 The role of "Zhao Ling'er" and "Legend of the Immortal Sword and Wonderful 1" from 17 years ago were quickly picked out and revisited. Between the new and the old, we prefer the familiar, safe and certain narrative. Why are we getting nostalgic? What does it mean when most people look more to the past than to the "present" or "future"? How do we restore confidence in the future? We had a two-hour conversation with counselor Cui Qinglong on this topic. Cui Qinglong is a counselor with rich professional theory and practice experience, and he writes on Weibo, which includes not only the understanding of individual psychology, but also the insight of the social psychology of this era. We start with the psychological mechanism of nostalgia. According to Cui Qinglong, the nostalgia of the times is not unique to the land we live in. When the curve of social development slows down, when people pass the point with the greatest slope, they can't help looking back to the past when there was a time of hope and possibility. In his opinion, nostalgia is not a bad thing, it is like a warm and comfortable safe nest, we can always choose to stay in it for a short while. But more importantly, when we retreat from the safe nest, how can we apply the experience of the past to the present, forge a fork in the path that has been established in the past decades, and gain the courage to explore. Will tomorrow be better? Cui Qinglong says there is no answer to this question for now, but we can still delineate our own "isolation zone" and build order within it - "Even if the downward macro curve is no longer within one's control, one can create an upward curve in one's own little world. Whether it's physical, skill growth, or social, the problem we face now is how we find personal self-care at the micro level, and this is very important.

Below, "People" talks with Cui Qinglong.

People: Some time ago, the public frequently discussed Wang Xinling's "Love You" and Taiwanese early idol dramas, and recently, because of Liu Yifei, they started to revisit "Legend of the Immortal Sword", including the topic of old actors reuniting in some variety shows, which also often aroused attention. According to your observation, has there been a trend of nostalgia in the last two years? Why are there more and more nostalgic voices?

Cui Qinglong: Earlier on, I would occasionally see short videos on some streaming platforms with clips of old movies, and these videos often had high click-through rates, and I would occasionally click on them myself, even if I was already familiar with the content. These videos have a common feature, they are generally about 20 years ago movies.

Nostalgia has become a trend in the past two years, and I think there are two reasons for this. On the one hand, people are less and less interested in TV shows nowadays, and over-marketing can make program companies gather all the successful elements to create content, which is actually an algorithmic success, and it's less the kind of thing that makes people instantly recognize its own uniqueness. Another internal factor is that people want to respond with nostalgia to some psychological experience they are missing in today's times.

I remembered a man who used to tell me that he knew a lot of friends from different cities so that every time he went to that city, he knew who to invite and didn't have to re-establish relationships. I said, "Why don't you go and make some new ones? He said the cost is too high and you can't always make a friend who is a good fit in that short period of time. He had already screened these friends and everything was certain, so the relationship experience may not be the highest, but it's not the worst either, which saves him the cost of pre-exploration and understanding and uncertainty.

Analogy to the matter of nostalgia. If we watch a new film and are unfamiliar with it, we need to reboot ourselves to focus and concentrate as much as possible, which actually has a psychological drain in it. When we repeatedly watch an old movie, we already know its general plot, it may be less fresh, but it is also a film above the level we have already screened. Because we are familiar with the plot, even if we are distracted by other things, even if we are distracted for a while, we can still connect to that track, and this kind of viewing process is less mentally exhausting, and it is more thoroughly restful and relaxing.

People: What kind of factors in your personal life or social environment evoke nostalgia?

Cui Qinglong: The word "nostalgia" contains the meaning of nostalgia. If a person has experienced trauma in the past and has some bad memories, he or she will not use "nostalgia" to point to that memory. Nostalgia contains a relatively carefree and happy life experience in a certain period of time. In that state of mind, you overlap with better memories of the past and feel happy or satisfied. When many people lack such experiences in real life and have a sense that they will not be able to create them in the future, they are likely to go back to the past frequently to find such experiences.

I once had a visitor who was working abroad alone, and he said he had watched "The Cook's Tale" almost 40 times and had memorized the plot. When he was at home, he would turn on the TV and play it in the background, and then do something else by himself. He said he would feel as if there was really a group of familiar people talking at home, very lively, very joyful. So nostalgia has an emotional companionship function at some point.

People: How do you understand the phenomenon of nostalgia from the perspective of psychology? Is it a good or bad sign?

Cui Qinglong: Occasional nostalgia, pointing to the past, is not a problem, because old memories play an important role in our psychology, and we need to pull some experiences and emotions from the past to guide the present. But if a person goes back to the past so often that he can't even come out of it, then he is tantamount to losing the present, and that's when it is negative.

In counseling, we will not directly intervene in the matter of nostalgia itself, and we will not advise him to withdraw from the past at once, because then he may have no "place" to go, and he will feel even worse. Behind the behavior is always a reflection of deeper emotional issues, such as an unfamiliar environment, combined with the vulnerability and loneliness that one has grown up with, when nostalgia is like a warm harbor that one can return to at any time. As the consultation moved forward, his time and frequency of using this function slowly decreased, and he built something else in his life that no longer required over-enabling the function of nostalgia.

People: There is a group on Douban called "Pretend to live in 1980-2000", and there are more than 100,000 members in this group.

Cui Qinglong: Around the millennium was a watershed moment when people's overall feelings about life, the world, and the future changed dramatically. I remember when I was a kid, to ask someone out, it would take me 30 or 40 minutes to run to his house and call him, there was no other way to contact him. We stayed together and had no other distractions, but instead devoted all of our focused time to relational interactions. Everything has to be done in a highly focused way without too many distracting elements. At that time, the experience of relationships is very pristine and has a very dense emotional experience in it. You don't even feel that you are feeling anything in particular, it is muddy and you are right in the middle of it.

At the same time, it was a time of huge incremental space. The reform and opening up was happening, the changes in the whole society were visible, and there was a space for an infinite future. People from all walks of life generally had a sense of hope and decided that if I put my heart and soul into doing a good job and learning a skill, I could lead a decent life, and people generally had such a firm mental expectation.

People: As we can see, there are dramas like "Please Answer 1988" in Korea, which recorded and nostalgically remembered the time when Korea hosted the Olympic Games and its economy started to take off. In fact, Europe, America, Japan and Korea all experienced similar "golden years", but as the growth curve slowed down, the social mentality began to change, such as the "no-edge society" and "fewer children" in Japan. What kind of social psychology fluctuates in the course of repeated historical twists and turns?

To be more precise, social psychology does not depend on the absolute value of the height of social development, but on the slope of its development. As long as this slope is maintained, most people will still have the enthusiasm to strive. Once this slope slows down, even if you reach a very high point, even if you are born in a developed country with a high monthly salary, people will become bored and depressed in their own social struggle trajectory due to the loss of sufficient incremental space. You work hard and you will find that it doesn't seem to improve anything, it doesn't make you feel that you have the ability to reach another completely different world.

Our previous generation was born with a particularly low starting point and no resources, but they went through the process of going from very low to leaps and bounds, and the psychological well-being of people is not based on absolute values, but on a continuous incremental process. The younger generation is different. At first people are in a relatively safe position, with no worries about food and clothing, and generally educated, and then gradually move downward into the invisible and long-standing pressure and burnout, which is the painful difference between generations, and is an analogy between the low absolute value of the previous generation (hard years) and the lack of space for development of young people (no sense of future), and this is where the two generations have difficulty empathizing with each other.

After the incremental space shrinks, the involution also arises, which is what we often call the stock competition. This is when people are passively involved in a more brutal game environment. Japan and South Korea are two countries that have demonstrated this process first. The fertility rate in South Korea is now the lowest in the world, and many people prefer to choose a lower-quality version of life, which is actually replacing psychological space with real space, or what we call "lying flat.

People: What does it mean for a society when people start to collectively feel nostalgic?

Cui Qinglong: If we divide a person's experience into past, present and future, when a group of people go to only one place in a high frequency and persistently, it means that the other two places do not give them a good experience. When nostalgia becomes a collective phenomenon, people are generally fleeing from the present and the future, not wanting to lean on these two places, either because the process of leaning is painful, or because there is no place to lean on. So I think it is not a good sign, it contains some hidden pain in it.

The sense of future in this era is very thin for many people, because it is an era that has developed to a high degree of order and lacks the necessary randomness, which makes many people clearly anticipate what their future life will be like.

People: Is the wave of collective nostalgia an ineffective sweetener?

Cui Qinglong: I don't think it's an ineffective sweetener, it can soothe a person's emotions and has a positive meaning. It is a way to take care of oneself in a moment of relative helplessness and loss in the face of the general environment, and it should be understood. What we really need to worry about is whether this sweetener will slowly turn into a person's spiritual main course, as it maps the present and future reality that may no longer be important to many people.

People: You mentioned earlier that "we should not only live in the present, but also be able to connect our past and future." How do you understand this statement?

Cui Qinglong: One of the assessments of mental health mentions "awareness," which focuses on whether a person is able to integrate experiences from different dimensions of time. When we have problems with awareness, the ratio of past, present, and future can become severely dysfunctional, and a person can shape his or her life according to this dysfunctionality.

For example, a person who has just experienced a breakup and bereavement will be completely caught up in the past, unable to focus on the present and the future. And a person who lives entirely in the fantasy of the future will be unable to effectively look back on the past or initiate action in the present.

A proper proportion of the present should be the largest, at least around five to six percent. The past is remembered to allow us to learn and grow, and the future guides us in which direction to go in the present; the three are like an olive-shaped structure.

So the most important thing is to confirm the proportion of the "now" part, to confirm whether we can create a state of life for ourselves in the present that we are happy to commit to, which, to put it bluntly, means that you are having fun and are content to live in the present. The "now" is your home, and you can go live somewhere for a while, but eventually you have to come back here.

People: How does the loss of influence on the grand future affect our micro lives specifically? On a larger scale, when groups lose their expectations of the future, how does that affect society?

Cui Qinglong: Once you don't pay attention to the future, people will tend to enter the mentality of "pendulum" in life, and if you can't pursue the big goals, I'll just settle for the rest and get by. People in this mentality, the ability to work and creativity will be significantly reduced, but also the overall efficiency of the operation of society will be passively reduced.

Social pressure is passed throughout the social system and eventually gets passed on to everyone, causing tension at the interpersonal level. Now that everyone online is so unfriendly, so sensitive and fragile, and easily provoked to, these aggressions are in a sense not just their own, but the restlessness of the whole society, which superimposes the emotional tension of the whole society, resulting in a general alienation and mistrust between people.

With such future expectations, people also become more pessimistic about intimate relationships. At this time, people first face relationships with a stop-loss mentality, all minding the real and psychological costs that cannot be compensated, unwilling to pay first, all hoping to be in a safe position. When everyone is in their safe position, the psychological distance between each other is already too big to get close and cohesive.

People: When the certain and repetitive path of the past does not work, how should we rebuild our own path and fight against uncertainty? Are there some feasible ways?

Qinglong Cui: In the sphere of personal influence and control, we can do things that can bring enough expectation and feedback. This is tantamount to creating an action and experience level baseline for one's life, which allows one to order and automate one's life, and one's psyche will become ordered accordingly. The ordered part is particularly important, to put it in a fashionable way, it is the part that is resisting the entropy increase in one's life and spiritual world. Once these ordered parts are able to function automatically, it means that it no longer consumes mental effectiveness, or it consumes very little. Just like someone who exercises, writes, and socializes every day, I write a tweet every day without the mindset of a task to complete it; it is in a constant, steady state, including my work, my entertainment. With the premise of having a basic plate, then exploring other possibilities, it's like installing more interesting plug-ins to it.

I would try some different sports, get in touch with some different things, like archery or shooting or whatever. One of my visitors said that if there was something new in his life, he made sure to experience it. His life is rich because he slowly finds parts of his life that match him and sink into him from within these unknown options.

People: You mentioned a point in your microblog that the epidemic and involution have created caches and fragments for our psyche that are difficult to clean up, how should we proactively deal with these leftover psychological debts and complete a full, immersive exploration?

Qinglong Cui: When one is in a state of inadequate psychological efficacy, one subconsciously avoids and does not face things. For example, if I have a bad relationship with someone, I won't communicate about this relationship in the first place. For example, if I have to have a regular medical checkup, I won't do it first, and if I don't finish a work task, I won't deal with it first. The home is very messy, I also first do not go to clean up. Many similar things more, like a background program has been right there to stay, it has occupied your mental space. If you are in a state of great powerlessness and self-doubt for a long time, it means that there is something dragging you in the background. This is the time to wonder what is running in the background on its own, it could be an emotion you are ignoring or a thing you are procrastinating on. Once there is enough mental effectiveness, it is best to go ahead and get rid of it. That thing is mental debt, and it's important that we go through it, or at least give it a plan and clean it up regularly.

People: For someone who has lost the courage to try, how do you get him on the path of discovery?

Cui Qinglong: First of all, it depends on the extent to which he has lost his courage. Some people will recover naturally after a period of time after a setback. And some people, like a snail, will encounter frustration, directly curled up inside a small shell, as far as possible to avoid contact with reality, the outside world is imagined to be much more terrible than the actual. At this time, he needs to re-examine reality and needs to reach out for something new outside of his psychologically safe boundaries to make his psychological safety zone bigger. Imagine a small child just learning to walk, he takes a few steps to look back at the adults behind him, fearing that he has lost or the adults have disappeared. Slowly, he will walk further and further away and will feel a new sense of security. This is actually how people grow up and shrink back after encountering setbacks, and when we lose our courage, we need to rebuild it in this way.

Exploration is essentially expanding our sense of security. Before exploring, we make sure that the uncertainty and danger of things is something we can afford to do. Don't go out on a limb and head straight for total uncertainty. Exploration is a process of slowly expanding to the periphery, centered on the original safe territory. If something is particularly unsafe for you, such a thing may not be suitable for you to explore at this stage. But relatively, there must be a relatively safe thing, just a little less solid, this kind of thing is optional. The places you have explored will slowly become safe territory that you are familiar with. It's a slow, but very worthwhile process to try to go from being relatively less safe to becoming safe.

People: Do we also need to embrace the self that is always nostalgic and craves security?

Cui Qinglong: I don't think it's a problem for someone to repeatedly look at familiar, old things. In a sense, at that moment, he subconsciously feels that it is a comfortable choice. There used to be a group of gamers who would buy a lot of new games, but not even play them once, or not for long before they turned them off, they called themselves electronically impotent, so they only played old games they had already played, or retro games from a decade or two ago, this kind of nostalgic behavior can be seen everywhere today.

As long as people are not too optimistic about the general environment, this nostalgia wave will always continue, it is the behavior refracted by people's psychological need for familiarity, security, warmth, affection and ease, and we should learn to accept this behavior unconditionally.

Accepting yourself unconditionally is a particularly important thing, not because of what you do and what kind of person you are, but because no matter what you do or who you are, you should go ahead and accept yourself, unconditionally. This level of acceptance can only be given to yourself and is most deserving. Unconditional self-acceptance does not mean indulgence in oneself, but a deep empathy and understanding of oneself. When a person truly accepts himself unconditionally, he will instead turn away from indulgence. So, let nostalgia be nostalgia, let yourself stay inside your safe nest for a while, and don't be hard on yourself.

People: When we have doubts about the proposition of "tomorrow will be better", how can we restore our confidence in the future?

Cui Qinglong: I don't really want to say things like "after this year is over, next year will be better". From the perspective of the law of economic development, the general environment will not turn in a short time, and the inflection point of the downside has not yet arrived. The most important thing now is not to expect its inflection point to come quickly, but how we learn to accept it with a new mentality in such a downward cycle.

We need to accept the fact that the world has entered a low-speed state and we don't have the means to maintain a higher speed or expectation and get a lot of strong feedback as before. At this level it is temporarily insurmountable. When society is in a downward cycle, it is unlikely that people's psychology will be generally upward and high; social psychology will not show a deviation from the social context, and I am talking about the incremental part.

But even if the downward macro curve is no longer within one's control, one can still create an upward curve in one's own little world, create one's own personal slope of growth, from the little things that can be influenced by oneself.

I wrote that sometimes one can lose control of one's micro life because one loses influence over the big future, such as eating, sleeping, learning, skill building, entertainment, health, positive thinking, emotional regulation, travel, socializing, etc. All these things can create control points. When we can practice these "little things" as initiators of action, we can gradually regain a sense of control over our lives.

This is like creating a strong enough boat for ourselves, and in such a boat, we can say that the future will be fine.