How sentimentalism steals from your happiness

Lots of people today—especially teens and young people—have an unhealthy obsession with “making memories” and trying to fully realize the value of an experience in real-time while it’s still happening.

I call this real-time memorialization.

It’s a form of cheap sentimentalism. It’s a way of avoiding the more uncomfortable emotions inherent in all of life’s more notable occasions, and replacing them instead with a catch-all feeling of “I’m-going-to-miss-this!” (a feeling that, of course, is tenuously-held and inevitably fleeting).

What happens, then, is we become sad (and only sad) when thinking back to times gone by. Because at the time, we insisted on being happy (and only happy) by ignoring all the reasons—big or small—why such occasions were less than perfect.

And we make it all worse for ourselves by documenting everything with photos and looking back with nostalgia at those photos even while the documented event is still happening.

All of this replaces deep engagement with the present moment. It steals from the actual progress we can make by being fully-present, engaged, and critical with our time and what we’re doing. And ultimately, it fills our heads not with memories, but with vague feelings of wistfulness and “memories of memories” that can never fulfill us in the way actual, organic memories can.

It applies our highest mental and emotional energies toward continually scanning for experiences that might be worth real-time memorializing, rather than toward a goal of personal progress without (or, at least, with much less) regard for how things are going to make us feel.

The result of all this is an emptiness inside. Pervading melodrama. Missing things we’re not even sure we can remember, and being sad of that fact. Perpetual longing for times gone by that were, when they happened, nowhere near as joyous as we remember and that during which, in fact, we were much less happy than we are today.

This is a self-destructive tendency. It’s cynicism in disguise. It will steal from your happiness. Fight it.