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. Kris says:

    Nowstalgia, is it? It’s a good word for that feeling. I know it so well. It is at those moments of joy that I am closest to crying, that I can feel my heart almost shrinking in the knowledge that the moment won’t come again and that they are but fleeting. Thank you for giving it a name 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. sasokisoaps says:

    Thanks Emily, lovely post. I think the good thing about your “nowstalgia” is that it means you are very conscious of those moments – they do not slip by unnoticed!
    It seems a very yin/yang thing to me – the beginning of everything in the endings and the endings in the beginnings. Thanks!
    Sarah ☺️

    Liked by 3 people

  3. ellenbest24 says:

    Your word belongs firmly in the dictionary, it is honest robust and beautiful.
    Catching a moment is like trying to step on your shadow as a child. Thank you for this. I can only give you ( on temporary loan ) Bletchitudes the name for vegetables.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. marilynyung says:

    I once read an essay about unnoticed “last times”… the last time your daughter reaches for your hand to cross the street, the last time you drop your son off at the elementary school, the last time you buy a bottle of baby shampoo. Just imagine if we experienced Nowstalgia not only during blissful moments, but final ones as well. I know I would be a blubbering mess—well, except for the last time my son forgets to load his wet clothes into the dryer. I would be okay with that “last time.” Thanks for your perceptive post… very honest and true and something many of us experience, albeit silently.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Jacob says:

    I love the musical group Boards of Canada for the feelings of 1970’s and 1980’s programming they inspire through their vignettes and samples of children’s programming. I was born in the 1980’s and became cognizant of the world around me more so in the early 1990’s… but what stays with me is a lot of the things one is primarily immersed in when one is a child… including PBS programming like Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street, Mr Rogers, and so on. Those moments of realization and learning continue with me throughout life, but initial discoveries and moments of experience life passage points are dear to us later in life. Things become more complicated and dynamic as the years pass. Some of the new horrors that happen in life, when we begin to say “Wow… have things changed!”… they, at first, evoke a sense of nostalgia. Then, later in life, they may also become moments of nostalgia. I remember being on vacation with my family as a child and watching the Waco stand-off. My feelings of fun and togetherness on that vacation and wide-eyed wonder at what was going on with this religious cult in Texas, contrasted with what my parents must have felt about this occurrence as being contrary to what they grew up seeing… it demonstrates a sort of nostalgia in transition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Grosvenor says:

      Interesting. Waco is giant in my memories as well, and watching “Fixer Upper” on HGTV these days I always have it in the back of my head. I’ve been introducing my kids to Reading Rainbow latley. What strikes me now is how interesting the nonfiction segments are. But I don’t remember a single one. I only remember the stories, like Bringing the Rain to Kapiti plain. My memory is a wonder.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jacob says:

        Reading Rainbow was a big one too. I remember the book review segues, with their cheesy transitions and descriptions. The only book I specifically remember featured on the program by name was The TV Kid. Looking back, it’s a interesting reflection. The book was about a kid who finds escapism in television. In a way, that was a lot of us. This just seems to have a, interesting meta-element.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. dfilmknight says:

    Great article. It’s a feeling I’ve experienced my entire life and now I can give it life by associating a word with it. Although language can be very limited when feeling something you have so vividly described, I felt a sense of relief knowing that I’m not the only one. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  7. robintgalt says:

    Nowstalgia. What a great word! I especially relate as a parent with a 5 year-old and almost 3 year-old. Their childhood is going by fast and I try to document some of the memories we are making, but I am forever not wanting to miss the now. Thanks for giving the feeling a name.


  8. markrickerby says:

    Brilliant. I’m a fellow “sufferer” of Nowstalgia, especially when it comes to my own children (two girls 2 and 4.) Thanks for defining it so well. Following! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Neera says:

    Beautiful post Emily. Going through your post, I remembered how many times I have felt the same. Like when my daughter offers to prepare tea for me and while she is there in the kitchen, I just watch her and think, I will not get to watch her like this once she is off to College in some other city.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. p1cz says:

    I came across this post and found much comfort as a mother you often wonder if it is the fear of your children growing too fast and having wished that you had documented or recorded every last minute…or is it truly like some people think….that I never grew out of that overtly sensitive child that is found crying in every photograph…you have given me comfort that I am not the only one…and for this I thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pragya Prasoon says:

    Amazing article. I often feel overwhelmed by observing some small beautiful moments which generally remain unnoticed in this rapidly changing life. But when we realise that those beautiful moments are not going to repeat, a tinge of sadness covers our soul.. This makes us feel that evey beautiful moment is temporary. But so is the case of unhappy and gloomy moments…. Life has its own calculations.. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Pragya Prasoon says:

    Amazing article. I often feel overwhelmed by observing some small beautiful moments which generally remain unnoticed in this rapidly changing life. But when we realise that those beautiful moments are not going to repeat, a tinge of sadness covers our soul.. This makes us feel that evey beautiful moment is temporary. But so is the case of unhappy and gloomy moments…. Life has its own calculations.. 🙂 ..

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Ofthe says:

    I’ve also been through this stage, but I am happy to know that I’ve also passed this stage of treasuring memorable moments so much that it hurt, that I have done away both the nowstalgia and nostalgia in one go. Now I just am able to start a brand new life without any unsorted out feelings! Is not that wonderful when you look back on it!

    Liked by 2 people

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