Tradition is often defined as the "transmission of custom or beliefs from one generation to the next."
Nostalgia is often defined as "sentimental affection or longing for the things or time from the past. "
I believe we often blur nostalgia for tradition. We look back on a few things through a hazy lens and remember something as tradition. In the same way that coaches and therapists could look at a method and confuse it with a principle. We start to blur them, instead of remembering nostalgia for what it is and for what it is not.
Here is an example that I think illustrates the cost of tradition and nostalgia. Growing up playing football in high school and college one big tradition was the use of two a days. In college it's often 3 a days. That's two practises a day, usually separated by lunch. Two a days often consisted of skills, plays and hitting and then whatever random conditioning drill the coach thought up. Lunch. Nap. Then repeat the morning all over again. For two weeks. Most players entered two a days at the peak of strength/speed and conditioning. You just spent three months doing nothing but lifting, running, pass catching and agility work. You are in amazing shape. Most started the season, weaker, slower and perhaps nicked up.
This is where nostalgia butts heads with tradition. Football coaches are usually ex football players. They look back on what they went though (nostalgia) and think they are keeping tradition alive. They were convinced that they are not in football shape. So they do things like one on one hitting drills over and over, convinced it made them tougher and in better "football shape." Looking back on it, I realized I never really felt great again until about 3-4 weeks into the start of the football season. I know many of my teammates felt the same way. The strength numbers and speed numbers that you had at the start of two days, didn't return until a few weeks into the regular season.
It was interesting when a professor from another country came to watch a practice and he asked the coach why are your players beating themselves up when they have a game in two weeks. It took an outside eye to look at a "tradition" and expose it as perhaps nostalgia...because that is what we do. How often do we see breakthroughs come from an outside eye asking if what we are doing is chasing nostalgia or keeping a tradition. How often are they criticized and ostracized when they do?
We have all kept that t-shirt from an event or sport that symbolized something to us. You haven't worn it in years, you have no plans to wear it. But you keep it. That is nostalgia. It's just symbolic. It represents something to us. When you think about it, what you did or accomplished will never be taken away. That memory is there. With smart phones so prevalent now, one can have a digital memory if you wanted to. It means something because it most likely represents a tradition or principle that you value. In the great book " The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up," the author asks a key question. Does it bring you joy. Traditions will, nostalgia won't.
I think people get into trouble when they chase nostalgia. It leaves them depressed, they look back on an event or place and try to recreate the "happy feeling," that they remember. If you're not careful I think it can lead to a fore longing for the past "my life isn't as fun anymore." Instead I think they should look back on the tradition that they want to continue. Perhaps it was nothing more then being with family and friends, an activity or place was just an excuse to get together. The spontaneity that was enjoyed cannot be reproduced, but it doesn't need to if you don't chase it. New memories can be created when the old ones aren't trying to be remade.
Traditions will perpetuate joy while nostalgia will often do the opposite. Lets hope we keep our traditions and just remember nostalgia instead of the other way around.