Anticipatory Nostalgia: Missing the Present Moment

01 March, 2021
Have you ever experienced something so good that, instead of being 100% in the moment, you're focused on how much you'll miss feeling that way? This is called anticipatory nostalgia. We'll tell you more about it here.

When hearing the word nostalgia, it’s common to think of that feeling of melancholy for a past event. Well, that isn’t always the case. This may sound weird to some, but the truth is that some people suffer from something called anticipatory nostalgia, which basically refers to already missing the present moment. In fact, some individuals may even experience a sense of nostalgia for something that hasn’t happened yet.

It’s safe to say that this term has generated great interest. As of now, many researchers are studying the function and emotional benefits of this feeling, of longing for something that isn’t yet in the present. In this article, we’ll be talking about the main findings and conclusions about this complex feeling.

Nostalgia

As you probably already know, memory is associated with feeling and emotion. If it wasn’t, why would you get sad when remembering a moment you miss, wishing it was happening once again? Everyone is capable of bringing certain memories into their mind. It’s possible to travel mentally to relive a beautiful moment. Thus, nostalgia refers to a desire to relive the past, to return to a moment or circumstances that no longer exist.

This complex emotion implies the ability to consciously recall an important event on a personal level. In addition, it has an ambivalent character, which makes it all the more complex. Think about it: this isn’t a positive nor a negative emotion. It just makes you feel, whether that’s joy or sadness. If there’s a word to define this emotion, it’d be bittersweet.

Experts do have something clear here, though. Basically, despite that this is an ambivalent emotion and that causes sadness most of the time, its effects are beneficial for psychological well-being. This is because nostalgia can help an individual define and reaffirm their feelings. It’s possible to increase the meaning you give to your life and protect yourself from discomfort thanks to this emotion.

A man with anticipatory nostalgia feeling sad while looking into the horizon.

Moreover, it’s more than common to recall happy and exciting situations when you feel alone. This is a natural mechanism used to overcome the feeling of loneliness. In this case, nostalgia helps to increase the feeling of belonging and social connection with others. In the end, it helps to better cope with this psychological state.

Additionally, some studies have shown that remembering past moments helps to look into the future with more optimism.

What does anticipatory nostalgia refer to?

So what happens when parents feel homesick when thinking of their grown children? And when you imagine yourself 20 years from now and you’re certain that you’ll miss your current life? Or when you finish studying and you know that there’ll come a time when, at least for a few moments, you’ll want to be a student once again?

Experts differentiate between anticipated nostalgia and anticipatory nostalgia. The first refers to knowing that, when looking back, you’re going to feel nostalgic about a particular thing or moment. In short, it means being aware that you’ll be nostalgic in the future. Generally, knowing that negative emotions will come in the future leads people to try to prevent them. However, nostalgia acts as a positive emotion and doesn’t lead to such attempts.

On the other hand, anticipatory nostalgia refers to missing aspects of the present before they’re lost in the future. Let’s put it in a different way: losing what you have now even long before you do. In this sense, nostalgia is experienced at that moment but based on a projection into the future.

The feelings associated with anticipatory nostalgia

There definitely needs to be more pieces of research on this emotion. However, studies have shown that some people are more likely to experience anticipatory nostalgia than others. Researchers have also delved into which events exactly are the ones that provoke people to feel this way.

Apparently, the aspects that cause people all kinds of nostalgia coincide. These are situations that involve important life events. Especially those related to personal relationships and achievements.

These memories and projections make everyone feel excited, optimistic, and curious. For one, they’re related to a feeling of gratitude for what one already has. Secondly, they’re associated with the anger and frustration linked to loss. But, above all, if you know that something will make you nostalgic, you’ll probably want to savor the experiences you’re having right there and then.

In addition, missing something that you’re currently experiencing is related to the tendency to sadness. So while nostalgia is beneficial, experiencing it prematurely can interfere with the ability to enjoy the moment. If you experience this, it doesn’t mean you aren’t satisfied with your life. What happens is that you may feel so connected to the present moment that you think you won’t feel that way again, at least not any time soon.

A woman looking at the ocean.

What you can learn from this

We all go through life events or experiences in a superficial way. Life can pass by in the blink of an eye. All of a sudden, you may realize that everything’s gone and you can’t go back. Therefore, being aware that the present moment will make a great future memory can help you enjoy it more. In the end, you want to grasp everything around you in order to properly relive it in your head later on.

The next time you go out with friends, get big news, or finish an important project, enjoy it. Get out of yourself for a moment to fully grasp the essence of everything. Your current experiences will be future memories. Live them to the fullest because nothing lasts forever.

  • Batcho, K. I., & Shikh, S. (2016). Anticipatory nostalgia: Missing the present before it’s gone. Personality and Individual Differences, 98, 75–84.doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.03.088
  • Cheung, W.-Y., Hepper, E. G., Reid, C. A., Green, J. D., Wildschut, T., & Sedikides, C. (2019). Anticipated nostalgia: Looking forward to looking back. Cognition and Emotion, 1–15.doi:10.1080/02699931.2019.1649247