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Does Living in the Moment Mean Forgetting the Past?

Flickr Creative Commons InvernoDreamingLet it go. Move on. Live in the moment. These are valid sentiments — words of wisdom that are featured in self-help books and spoken by personal development gurus. And I honestly adhere to those notions; moving forward from certain chapters and releasing old ghosts is freeing. And healthy. Staying present encourages appreciation, of beauty, of the little things.

However, without discounting the aforementioned points, I propose that the past is immensely valuable as well. Happiness could be attained via reminiscence, and in the past, meaning could be garnered and lessons can be learned.

Sonja Lyubomirksy’s The How Of Happiness, discusses how happiness can stem from the power of reminiscence.

“Researchers suggest that using a specific technique to trigger or intensify one’s recall of the past may be successful at producing vivid, engaging reminiscence,” Lyubomirsky, a positive psychologist, said. “For instance, you might use guided imagery to vividly re-create the details of a pleasant memory in your mind.”

Positive reminiscence could also be beneficial in moments of difficulty. You can mentally transport yourself to a happy memory in order to alleviate angst.

According to one study, after positive reminiscence, 29% of participants relayed a new perspective toward current conflicts, 19% acknowledged a positive affect, 18% deemed it as an ‘escape,’ and 2% claimed that there was no impact.

“Positive reminiscence boosts happiness in several ways,” Lyubomirsky wrote. “Focusing on positive aspects of past experiences may prompt you to feel that you are attaining your ideals or dreams and help reinforce your sense of identity. Positive reminiscence can also produce pleasure and enjoyment for its own sake, by laughing at funny moments, reveling in the memory of the wind in your hair, or reliving a beautiful day. Doing this can provide comfort and respite from stress during difficult or painful times.”

If I’m feeling anxious, I may visualize Aruba (where I once vacationed) or indulge in other feel-good memories.

A sense of meaning can be found in the past, too. Some life changes result from natural progression, while others stem from deliberate acts. However these changes arise and manifest, nostalgia may very well be rooted in place. (“Nostalgia” is pretty much my middle name.)

And if shifts ensue, if transformation takes hold, we’ll look back and smile a bittersweet smile. We’ll look back and remember that at one crucial time, it meant something. Whatever came our way was what we truly needed to experience.

“Those who I love, those who I thought by now would exist firmly in my past, just crossing my mind every few months or so — even as their lives power forward, they are here with me daily,” Leslie Finlay wrote in her Thought Catalog piece, “Your Past Isn’t Always Best Left Behind.”

“With the new people, experiences, places shaping my life, there they are. And I think that in a way, they know that. At least I hope that they do,” she wrote.

Finally, the past is the home of our mistakes, our mishaps, our ugly moments. But from it all, we learn, we grow, and we’re able to hone in on what we want to adjust and cultivate. We learn painful lessons about ourselves or other individuals. We understand the kind of relationships that serve us for the better, and the kind that exude toxicity.

There’s something to be said for the value of the past. Positive reminiscence can be achieved, resulting in happiness; meaning can be recognized; and the potential for growth can originate.

Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons / InvernoDreaming

Does Living in the Moment Mean Forgetting the Past?

Lauren Suval

Lauren Suval studied print journalism and psychology at Hofstra University, and she is a writer based in New York. Her work has been featured on Thought Catalog, Catapult Community, and other online publications. Lauren's e-book “Coping With Life’s Clutter” and her collection of personal essays, “The Art Of Nostalgia,” can both be found on Amazon. Lauren's latest E-Book, "Never Far Behind," a collection of poetry, is available on Smashwords, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. She loves to be followed on social media, including her Facebook Writing Page,

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APA Reference
Suval, L. (2018). Does Living in the Moment Mean Forgetting the Past?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 21 Aug 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.