Rosy Retrospection – See Why The Here and Now Is Actually Better Than You Think

Rosy retrospection. Hmmm, okay. What exactly is that?

According to Mark Travers, Ph. D. of Psychology Today, “Psychologists refer to a flawed thought pattern known as rosy retrospection. It is a well-studied cognitive bias. It happens because when we think about the past, we are more likely to think about people, events, places, and things in the abstract. And, when we think about things in the abstract, we are more likely to focus on positive generalities than the nitty-gritty and sometimes gory details.”

So basically, our brains sift out the bad stuff and we’re left with warm, fuzzy memories of the past. We look at those old family photos and think, “Ahhh… those were the good old days. Look at how happy I was here! And my brother and I are smiling and having a great time together in this photo!”

But, is that the reality? Or did I block out how at that time I was actually going through a terrible breakup and was feeling all kinds of angst? Oh, and yes my brother and I were smiling in the photo – but just a few minutes earlier, we were bickering over whose turn it was to do the dishes.

How is rosy retrospection a good thing?

So how is it a good thing? Well…let’s start with childbirth (hello!). I can see how abstract thinking can be very helpful. We can remember the emotional overwhelm of that magical experience while forgetting some of the other details.

Another positive is it might help us by enhancing our confidence and self-esteem. When you look back at photos of yourself in your prom dress and think about how amazing that night was, it’s a great thing. Carrying thoughts and images in your mind of how good things were may help you to carry more confidence in your stride.

And how rosy retrospection doesn’t serve us today:

Rosy retrospective can also be a negative thing. When we miss the good old days, we’re only focusing on what was. Our day-to-day grind and struggles seem worse. The present moment can’t compare to our joyful, glorious past. We miss the chance to appreciate how good things are right now.

That’s a tough one to manage. When the past was that good – how can the present or the future ever measure up?

Interesting side note: We’re getting better with age.
Despite everything happening in our world today, it is still an abundantly positive time to be on this planet. We’re living longer. We have more opportunities than ever before. We’ve made many scientific advancements – hello, Moderna. Women are making huge strides and gaining much-deserved ground. We’re connected in a global community. There’s a profound spiritual shift happening on this planet. We’re recognizing collective issues, and are finally taking a stand to make important, necessary changes. It’s not perfect – but it’s getting better.
And as we get older, our sense of satisfaction with our lives improves. Emily Gersema of USC says, “studies have argued that younger adults are less positive because they perceive time as expansive. They are more likely to focus on planning for the future, compared with older adults who have more of a present-moment approach to their lives.”
So, it seems rosy retrospection is less of a factor to older adults because they’re finding more happiness in the here and now. That’s something to continue to look forward to.

A few more thoughts:

When it comes to some of my family memories, it’s interesting. Right now I’m in the process of organizing old photos of my daughter. When I look at her in that photo from the Minneapolis airport wearing her snoopy t-shirt, holding the snoopy statue’s hand, I do feel pangs of nostalgia mixed with a touch of sadness. I miss those days and look upon them lovingly. But truth be told, our relationship now is better than it’s ever been. I wouldn’t trade it.
At the end of the day, it’s the present moment that holds all of the gifts. Maybe we can recognize that we might sometimes over-glamorize the past. Seeing that the past wasn’t as perfect as we’d thought frees us to let it go gently. We can settle into and fully enjoy the present moment – and see all of the beauty, rightness, joy, hopefulness, and connection in it- because it’s all we ever truly have.
Ps. Look here to see what rose colored glasses means to me.
Do you have anything else to add? Please comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
7 replies
  1. Ritika Menon
    Ritika Menon says:

    I totally agree with the fact that the world now is not perfect, but it’s getting better! I really hope we find answers and solutions to many of the problems our planet and we face and this trend of things getting better continues!

    Reply
  2. Mary S.
    Mary S. says:

    I like this post. Recently I’ve been taking a long look at what I’m doing and why. It’s all a matter of perspective.

    Reply
  3. Lisa Stokoe
    Lisa Stokoe says:

    I feel you have to find positive things in your life every day. There is way to much negativity in society. You have to find your own positive spin!

    Reply

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