In Praise of Nowstalgia: The Sadness in Happiness

A photo to show this actually happened.

A photo to show this actually happened.

airstreamTwo weeks ago, at a tiny, footprint-shaped lake near Mt. Bachelor, we found ourselves picnicking with over 100,000 Cascade frogs. As we stepped near the edge of the water, the pond rolled in a black wave of flapping polliwogs disturbed by our footfall.

You can never feel truly alone in the wilderness.

And then there they were, framed by the deep lines of woods and lake – after three years, eight days, 10 hours and 43 minutes on family rancor (but who’s counting?) – my boys, helping each other. My 5-year-old was showing his brother how to hold a tiny, slippery frog in his hand so he could keep him cupped inside but not crush him. My younger son: listening patiently and following his older brother’s lead. The frogs jumped around their feet in primal flight mode.

My boys crouched down together and snatched two tiny frogs out of the grass. My older son dropped a half-inch long slimy frog into my younger son’s soft palm, and in the crisp sun of an Oregon mountain summer, the world stopped for me.

I got that feeling again. It’s a feeling I can’t help but notice more and more in these hazy, long afternoons of summertime: Nowstalgia.

Nowstalgia is what I call that split second when I can sense that a memory is being created, and instead of being happy for the calamitous beauty of this moment, I’m already nostalgic for how much I’m going to miss it years from now. It’s a truer version of the term bittersweet, an idea far better for capturing how quickly a life passes and how intimately we feel the passing.

Nowstalgia. It is the tinge of melancholy that seems to come along with every moment of joy for me. It’s the part of me that can’t seem to let me get completely swept away in what is happening before my eyes. It’s the sadness in happiness — the knowledge that even though I can tell myself to lock a moment into my long-term memory, the past has shown that I just don’t work like that.

Fact: My memory is the worst kind of paper rubbing of what happened. Even with a photograph I tend to remember only how I felt about things. Every time I tell myself to commit a moment to memory – remember this moment! – it is gone within a week.

If I were chasing happiness I know I could just sit back and relax. Nearly every day there is a new study or book or article confirming that happiness is found in the moment, in accessing the NOW (thank you, Eckhart Tolle), or in reaching the flow state of activity that allows time to slip away and perfect convergence with the presence.

Life is painful enough, you say. You don’t have to go and live  your happy moments as pain, too!

But when you’re someone who feels deeply, it becomes difficult not to see even the brightest moments as some blips within a grander context. The children will grow up, they’ll be fighting again in a minute and we’re all going to die someday.

My husband says I’ve been waxing nowstalgic since he met me in 2001, but I haven’t yet determined how long I’ve been feeling nowstalgia’s tug. I don’t know if it’s something that deepens when you have children, or have read too many books, whether it’s just something you’re born with that gets more prominent with age or whether it’s just a writer thing. But I do know that by identifying the feeling with this very silly word I’ve been able to accept it as something odd and beautiful when it appears.

The Cascade frog is endangered — you can remove them from the lake to the tune of a $1,250 fine. With Nowstalgia, I run the risk of endangering every moment of joy. I’m not going to let it take nowstalgia ruin my days. I’m going to let it roll through me like a tiny wave and then, gosh darn it, I’m going to go catch some frogs.


Do you have any favorite new words to describe a feeling? 

Follow Emily on Twitter @emilygrosvenor!

105 thoughts on “In Praise of Nowstalgia: The Sadness in Happiness

  1. memoirsonthemove says:

    Heartwarming read. This mix of emotions especially gets me when I’m around my loved ones. It comforts me to remember that although these snippets of life inevitalby won’t reoccur or last forever, we’re lucky enough to have them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. bestcardreaders says:

    Being a 47 year old father of 3 ages 20 15 and 3 I can relate to these feelings! I see my gorgeous little girl’s personality beginning to blossom, and although I feel deeply blessed to experience those little moments again I also feel sad because I know from real experience how quickly it will fade to merely a distant memory! Beautiful post. OI think I will ad you to my follow list!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. richelking says:

    I know this feeling. It’s trying to savor in all the moments knowing it will end soon. Time is always limited. Good things come to an end. Bad things come to an end. Nothing on earth is permanent – that is both the beauty and tragedy of it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. From Surviving to Thriving says:

    So cool, and so true… i get this all the time. I guess it can be a good reminder to live in the moment and focus on what’s important in life — because one day it will be gone. The other good thing is that, although those happy moments leave, there will be more. And in 20 years, there will still be more. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Katia USV says:

    This is such a thoughtful and intimate blog. I think you captured the way most of us experience happiness and related feelings although we are too proud to acknowledge it. I can completely relate to “Nowstalgia”. Thank you!


  6. HeidiSofia says:

    Lovely read. Very glad I stumbled upon this blog through the discover pages. You really have given me a new word to add to my vocabulary too. 🙂


  7. banaue8 says:

    I Enjoyed reading your post. Now, I know that my Dad who was as WWII Vet, who passed away at age 95, is as normal after all. I used to think that his experiences as a WWII Vet made him the most paranoid human being I’ve ever known. I used to think he is a “killjoy.” He used to tell us to control our merriment during our family gatherings. He said, there is a “bad omen” or “sadness” following right after. Like you decided to catch them frogs, my Dad finally broke that barrier when we celebrated his 95th birthday. I watched him so happy from his anticipation to blowing his birthday cake, receiving presents, and hugs and kisses from everyone. He felt so happy and excited till he went to bed. It is so sad though that he waited 95 years to feel happy? I’m now learning happiness and sadness are partners in life, though not present at the same time. So when happiness comes, enjoy it because it’s here today, and gone tomorrow. So when you feel sad, feel it, process it, knowing that happiness is just around the corner. Inspiring blog. Thanks again!


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