Why do we do this? Was the past really so great? Remembering does not really allow us to re-experience anything, and each time we remember something we are rewriting the memory by accessing it. I know this concept can be disconcerting. Let’s clear up a few technical aspects of memory before we delve into what it is to yearn for something that has come before.
The best statement of how memory works that I’ve come across is not a technical one:
…(O)ur brain stores a series of brief fleeting moments – visual snapshots, sounds, smells, thoughts and feelings – and each time we remember, we piece these back together to create something called an episodic memory of an event.— https://theconversation.com/serial-your-memory-can-play-tricks-on-you-heres-how-34827
I like to research and read both in social science and in biology and have been reading and thinking about memory for a very long time all the way back to when I was studying clinical psychology at Purdue University in the 70s. These “reconstruction of events via images, sounds, smells, thoughts and feelings” fit very well with my understanding of how chemical signals in the brain and body can trigger reconstruction of times when those same sets of signals occurred. Are they always reconstructed identically to the first time when those signals coalesced into a discrete event? Probably not.
Then we can also show that forgetting is helpful to everyday living
along three important (if not entirely independent) roles supported by forgetting, namely (a) the maintenance of a positive and coherent self-image (“Guardian”), (b) the facilitation of efficient cognitive function (“Librarian”), and (c) the development of a creative and flexible worldview (“Inventor”)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2211368119301767
and to creating the self we want to be.
Do You Yearn for Youth?
Most of us, when we were young, knew practically nothing of importance. Let’s agree that young is under 30 years of age but still adult – for this discussion. Life experience trains us in all sorts of ways. We learn, but we are also conditioned.
“Does it hurt when you do that? Then don’t do that.”
Much of that conditioning hurt in one way or another, and I would not want to go through that pain again. Some of us may have been happy little puppies who were trained only with positive reinforcement and treats, but from my perspective, most of us were smacked on the nose by relationship breakups, job changes, family restructuring through alienation or death, and lots of other unpleasant experiences.
There are pleasant experiences I might love to re-experience, but most of the life that surrounded those experiences were nothing I would want to relive. That is why my memory of those times is incomplete and that I probably forgot much of what went on at that time. Forgetting might have happened because I simply did not re-member (Literally re: again — and member: a constituent piece of a complex structure).
What I am saying is that yearning for what once was is silly. One: you can’t go back. Two: the back that you remember never existed as you remember it.
Do this consciously and be happy. Even in your legacy writing or stories.