About the Book
Humans are a progress-oriented species. We aren’t satisfied with the world our ancestors left us. We strive to make it better.
Cultures differ in the extent to which they prioritize change or stability. However, at some fundamental level, humans are equipped with psychological characteristics that push us toward novelty-seeking, exploration, creativity, innovation, and future-oriented goals aimed at improving the world for ourselves and our descendants.
Likewise (and unexpectedly), efforts to restore an older way of living can also reflect a desire for progress. For example, urban dwellers who want to live a more simple lifestyle connected to nature may look to new models of remote work made possible by modern-day society. They aren’t looking to abandon their current professional and economic life to live off the land, nor are they longing for the physically challenging and dangerous existence of early American frontier life. They have a contemporary vision of interacting with nature. They seek a lifestyle that will allow them to gain the physical and mental health benefits of a slower pace while benefiting from emerging technology, evolving business culture, and the latest discoveries about health and wellness.
Most people don’t want to live exactly like their ancestors did; they want to use the past as inspiration for improving their lives. They are borrowing from the past to build a better future. Understanding this point helps us understand the power of nostalgia.
Essentially, the past paves the way for a better future. Just as the lessons of history are critical to progress, personal and collective memories offer valuable guidance for the decisions we need to make going forward. Our nostalgia works hand in glove with our hopes and dreams for the future.
At first blush, nostalgia may seem to conflict with progress. After all, our longing for yesteryear is often accompanied with a displeasure with the present and fears about the future. If our response to present-day problems and future challenges is to feel nostalgic for the past, wouldn’t that make nostalgia an enemy of progress? Even if nostalgia gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling, might it ultimately get in the way of us improving our lives and making a positive difference in the world?
My hope is that after reading this book, you won’t think of nostalgia as a barrier to personal growth and societal progress, but rather appreciate it as a critical ingredient of personal growth and societal progress.
As you will learn, nostalgia has a fairly wild history! It was once considered by experts to be a medical disease and mental illness, but modern psychological science is discovering that nostalgia is a psychological resource that helps us in various ways. If we want to better understand and find inspiration from our true selves, connect with and serve others, live a meaningful and intentional life, and improve our communities and the broader world, we would benefit from embracing nostalgia in a new light.
Praise for Past Forward
“Clay Routledge makes the thought-provoking case that looking back with nostalgia can actually be good for us. Past Forward comes to a surprising but solid conclusion: thinking about the past can help us cope, build self-esteem, connect to others, and manage stress. It’s a fascinating look into the research on how humans think about time.” – Jean M. Twenge, PhD, author of Generations
“In Past Forward, acclaimed psychologist Clay Routledge delves deeply into the profound and often underestimated power of nostalgia. Drawing on decades of research, this thought-provoking and lucidly written book unravels the mysteries of our longing for the past and reveals how we can all use nostalgia intentionally to improve our present lives and build a brighter future.” – Constantine Sedikides, PhD, professor of social psychology, University of Southampton, UK
“If you miss ‘the good old days,’ well, lucky you. In Past Forward, Clay Routledge shows us that nostalgia is an unmistakably positive force in life—combating loneliness, boosting self-esteem, and driving society forward. A fascinating book.” – Arthur C. Brooks, PhD, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, author of From Strength to Strength, a #1 New York Times Bestseller
“In Past Forward, Clay Routledge convincingly argues that nostalgia can be a critical ally of progress. Counterintuitively, our nostalgic longing for the past doesn’t hold us back. It helps us adapt to a changing world and find the motivation to move forward with an optimistic outlook. Importantly, Routledge shows readers how they can take advantage of the power of nostalgia to improve their own lives and the world around them.” – Marian L. Tupy, founder and editor of HumanProgress.org, coauthor of Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know and Superabundance
“Clay Routledge thoughtfully explores the value of memories and nostalgia, emphasizing their profound impact on our personal growth and collective adavancement, urging us to embrace the past as a guiding force toward a brighter tomorrow. For our scropbooking community, we’ve known for a long time that there is magic in nostalgia, but Clay Routledge helps us understand exactly how that magic of the past impacts our futures.” – Alison Dutton, CEO of Creative Memories
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Facts About Nostalgia in America:
- Most people’s nostalgic memories involve family, romantic partners, or close friends.
- An overwhelming majority of Americans (84 percent) say their nostalgic memories serve as a reminder of what
is important in life.
- When life is uncertain or difficult, most Americans believe their nostalgic memories are a source of comfort (77
percent) and inspiration (72 percent).
- Nearly 6 in 10 Americans say their nostalgic memories offer guidance when they are unsure what path to take in
Nostalgia in the News:
- Remember the Good Old Days? No Need to Feel Ashamed if You Do – Wall Street Journal
- The Surprising Power of Nostalgia at Work – Harvard Business Review
- Nostalgia and Thinking About the Future Can Be Good For You – Discover
- Gen Zers and Boomers Share the Same Techno-Optimism and Nostalgia – Fortune
- Memory Lane: Nostalgic For the Future – Tethered Minds Podcast
About the Author
Clay Routledge, PhD, is a leading expert in existential psychology. He is the vice president of research and director of the
Human Flourishing Lab at the Archbridge Institute and co-editor of Profectus. Learn more about his work.
The Archbridge Institute is a non-partisan, independent, 501(c)(3) public policy think tank. Our mission is to lift barriers to human flourishing.
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