Past Forward: How Nostalgia Can Help You Live a More Meaningful Life (Paperback)

Past Forward: How Nostalgia Can Help You Live a More Meaningful Life By Clay Routledge, PhD Cover Image
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A leading psychological researcher shares compelling science and valuable practices for mindfully using nostalgia to live a more grounded, connected, and purposeful life.

When an old song makes you want to dance like you did in high school, or you long for the comforting taste of your mom’s cooking, that’s more than just memory—it’s nostalgia. But is nostalgia all about “living in the past” to hide from reality? In Past Forward, psychologist Clay Routledge presents a fascinating investigation into an emotion we all experience yet often misunderstand, revealing nostalgia’s extraordinary potential to enrich our present—and our future.

Dr. Routledge has been at the forefront of a new wave of research that has established a fresh, evidence-based view of nostalgia—not as a psychological weakness, but as a complex and valuable resource for our well-being. Here he presents a treasury of informed insights and science-based practices to help you turn nostalgia into a powerful ally, including:

• Understanding nostalgia—what this feeling is and why it’s necessary for a healthy psyche
• Enhancing your sense of self—how nostalgia can help you build confidence and self-esteem
• Deepening connection—the possibilities and pitfalls of nostalgia as a foundation for personal and group relationships
• Coping with stress—invoking the past to face present-day anxieties with clarity and resilience
• Finding purpose—how nostalgic reflection can reveal your most enduring values
• Moving into the future—excavating the past as a source for innovation, creativity, and hope

If we approach nostalgia with awareness and discernment, we can use our cherished memories to help look outside of ourselves, connect with others, and weave a meaningful life story that supports us through difficult times. As Dr. Routledge puts it, “By engaging in nostalgia, we are not moving toward the past. We are bringing the past forward to the present to help us build a more fulfilling future.”

About the Author

Clay Routledge, PhD, is a leading expert in existential psychology. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Atlantic, The New Yorker, Wired, Forbes, and more. He is the vice president of research and director of the Human Flourishing Lab at the Archbridge Institute. For more, visit

Praise For…

"Explaining psychological concepts in lucid prose, Routledge testifies to the value of looking to the past in a progress-obsessed society, and raises expansive questions about the ways personal meaning is constructed and cemented. It’s an incisive take on a slippery subject.” —Publishers Weekly

“Clay Routledge makes the thought-provoking case that looking back with nostalgia can actually be good for us. Past Forward comes to a surprising but solid conclusion: thinking about the past can help us cope, build self-esteem, connect to others, and manage stress. It’s a fascinating look into the research on how humans think about time.” —Jean M. Twenge, PhD, author of Generations

“In Past Forward, acclaimed psychologist Clay Routledge delves deeply into the profound and often underestimated power of nostalgia. Drawing on decades of research, this thought-provoking and lucidly written book unravels the mysteries of our longing for the past and reveals how we can all use nostalgia intentionally to improve our present lives and build a brighter future.” —Constantine Sedikides, PhD, professor of social psychology, University of Southampton, UK

“If you miss ‘the good old days,’ well, lucky you. In Past Forward, Clay Routledge shows us that nostalgia is an unmistakably positive force in life—combating loneliness, boosting self-esteem, and driving society forward. A fascinating book.” —Arthur C. Brooks, PhD, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, author of From Strength to Strength, a #1 New York Times bestseller

“In Past Forward, Clay Routledge convincingly argues that nostalgia can be a critical ally of progress. Counterintuitively, our nostalgic longing for the past doesn’t hold us back. It helps us adapt to a changing world and find the motivation to move forward with an optimistic outlook. Importantly, Routledge shows readers how they can take advantage of the power of nostalgia to improve their own lives and the world around them.” —Marian L. Tupy, founder and editor of, coauthor of Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know and Superabundance

“Clay Routledge thoughtfully explores the value of memories and nostalgia, emphasizing their profound impact on our personal growth and collective advancement, urging us to embrace the past as a guiding force toward a brighter tomorrow. For our scrapbooking community, we’ve known for a long time that there is magic in nostalgia, but Clay Routledge helps us understand exactly how that magic of the past impacts our futures.” —Alison Dutton, CEO of Creative Memories

"Routledge brings a clinician’s eye for evidence-based research and a lay person’s fascination with everything from Star Wars to pop psychology to the topic of nostalgia…” —Library Journal

Product Details
ISBN: 9781683648642
ISBN-10: 1683648641
Publisher: Sounds True
Publication Date: December 5th, 2023
Pages: 224
Language: English