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The Dangers Of Rosy Retrospection

The Dangers Of Rosy Retrospection

A diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, or other similar chronic illness, can be life changing. While there are many afflicted by the disease who will have few issues, there are many that face increasing levels of disability and loss of independence. That doesn’t mean their life will be terrible, but it does mean it will be different. If they’re willing to adapt, they may find that they appreciate more and that their life even improves in some areas. However, there is one recurring speed bump on that road to a great life that consistently throws us in the wrong direction: thoughts of the past.

Living in the past

Now, I’m not talking about enjoying our fond memories or remembering loved ones. After all, remembering our past times can be a pretty enjoyable activity. It’s when we let that affect our current life that it becomes a problem. If we think too much about our past, we’ll be stuck there and won’t be able to live in the present. It sidetracks me all the time! It’s hard not to think of my life, even just a few years back (or so it seems anyway), when I was not considered disabled, when I had a very well paying job, when I could run, and travel, and do all sorts of things that seem so difficult these days. It’s easy to think back and get stuck on that, wishing that I still had that life. This kind of remembrance can be a huge cause of depression for people.

We all have this problem

Dwelling on our past is not something limited to those of us with a chronic illness, everyone does it. While it’s easy enough to pine for the days of old on our own, we now have constant reminders. Facebook is quick to show us our “memories” from previous years. We even have dedicated apps on our phones that will scan all of social media and show us our past. All of that can be enjoyable, but it can really put an emphasis on our past, at times when we need to focus on the present, or even the future. Whether we use our own memories, look at pictures, or have past social media posts thrust at us, there is often one thing in common when we reminisce. The past always seems better than it was.

Rosy retrospection

You may have heard the phrase “seeing through rose colored glasses” before when discussing someone who is looking back fondly of the past. We get that phrase from the concept of “Rosy Retrospection,” which is the psychological phenomenon of remembering past events as more positive than they really were. This is something that we are all prone to do, and something humans have been doing long before we had social media. Psychologists have long studied it. The Romans recognized it as a bias, and even had a phrase for it (in Latin, “memoria praeteritorum bonorum”, roughly meaning “We remember the good things of the past”). Not only do we tend to remember things fondly, our minds can even exaggerate some aspects of our memory. This concept is one of the biggest problems when we think about our past. The way our minds work, we are almost guaranteed to think more fondly of the past then our current lives.

Finding the good in the present

If we constantly end up measuring our past to our present, we aren’t going to be very happy. In a contest of past versus present, the past will always win, and that makes for a pretty crappy present. While we should never forget the past, it’s important not to dwell on it, not to idolize it. Remember that, in the future, you will probably look on these current times as good times too, no matter what your situation is. I know that can seem pretty hard to believe, especially if you’re battling a chronic illness, but it’s true. No matter what your situation is, there are good things about it. You may have to think about them to find them, but they are there. If you focus on finding the good in the present, rather than the obscured view of the past, you will be much happier.

Thanks for reading!


This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Nancy W
    2 years ago

    thanks for the reminder. it makes me think – today I am grateful for….the sunshine streaming in my bathroom window. simple things. seems like a small thing but it can be dreary this time of year and the days are,short.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you Nancy W! I find that the longer I have the disease, the more grateful I am for the littlest and simplest things in life. Sunshine is always on those too, especially living in the middle atlantic area on the east coast!

  • Stanner
    2 years ago

    Fair enough. And I do try to appreciate what I still have and still can do, and remind myself that it can be worse, but…

    One may call it rosy retrospection, but even objectively viewed, it actually WAS far better. Fully employed at a well paying career, with all the benefits that went along with it. The ability to afford wonderful travel. Beach trips at least twice a year (and able to enjoy the sun and sand), International travel. Being able to hold a pencil! Not merely the disposable income, but the physical ability to enjoy social social gatherings at places not handicap accessible. The ability to provide for family. Running at least 2 miles at least 3 times a week. Being able to live spur of the moment without first checking: Is that place (restaurant, home, city, seats) accessible? Can I afford the (by no means extravagant) cost. Is a bathroom very close by?

    So yes, it could be worse, but rosy or not, it’s impossible to say that it didn’t use to be better.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you Stanner! I understand, and find myself feeling that way too, I know that things were much better in the past too. I think the key to try not to dwell on that, try not to live in those moments too much, and celebrate the good when we have them now.

  • StephMS35
    2 years ago

    I usually do not think of the good times I had in the past because I still try to have them. I no longer drive or work as a research tech at a university but I have driven across the country and worked with DnA. What haunts me are all the bad times I had have due to the MS. This includes many horrific things but car accidents + riding the tallest dark escalator (DC subway) that come to mind.
    I take walks now because I still can and live now in FL where there is sunshine + vit D & beach waves + breezes.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you for reading and sharing your story @stephms34, very much appreciate you taking the time to!

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