Sentimentality

Bore that I am, I mentioned R. H. Blyth’s definition of sentimentality: that we are being sentimental when we give to a thing more tenderness than God gives to it.

J.D. Salinger, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters & Seymour: An Introduction
I am a sentimental person. I live for special moments, anniversaries, tokens of love and appreciation – memories and things that I can continuously look back on with fondness. I used to think that this was a proper way of appreciating my life. That said, I decided to start thinking of my rampant sentimentalism more critically a few months ago, and have slowly realized the dark side of cherishment.

When you sentimentalize an object, you create a strong emotional attachment to it. While this act is innocent on the surface, it can actually be taxing and burdensome. For when you sentimentalize something, it becomes hard to get rid of – some may even find it impossible. You’ll hold on to: gifts from every birthday, Christmas, wedding, and anniversary; childhood toys; momentos from memorable outings or events; concert tickets, movie stubs, and boarding passes; souvenirs from your holidays and travels… You get the idea. You’d be devastated if any of these things broke or became lost. You find it hard to appreciate or devote your energy to any one thing, because you own hundreds of things that need to be used and acknowledged, too. You keep all these items on display to show how much you care about them, but your house ends up looking messy and cluttered. These items may seem like good things, but they aren’t doing you any favours – they’re distracting and emotionally draining.

Getting rid of these objects won’t wrack you with guilt, just like no longer having a physical reminder of “Remember that time…” won’t make you feel empty. Quite the opposite. Cutting your emotional ties to physical objects will make you feel free and fulfilled. When the object is gone, there will no longer be an intermediary between you and the memory. Instead, there will be a direct link. You will stop caring about these objects physically because you know that even if they were to disappear from your life, the memories you have never will.

Letting go of sentimentalising objects also allowed me to let go of living in the past. By surrounding myself constantly with physical reminders of time gone by, I was constantly revisiting my memories when I should’ve been living in the present. While this was usually an unconscious act, I also started to use this retreat as a coping mechanism whenever something bad happened to me. Instead of dealing with the problem so that I could happy again presently, I’d try to cheer myself up with memories of “the good old days”. While this did and does work, it is ultimately a form of escapism whose results don’t last. It can also build unnecessary and unhealthy feelings of resentment towards the present, and idealizes the past.

Even after realizing all of this, I still identify myself as a sentimental person. However, I now approach sentimentality in a different way. I deeply appreciate happy moments and occassions in my life, and apply maybe a little too much tenderness to these times. But I no longer keep physical reminders. If the moment was as great as I thought it was, I will remember it, and look back on it fondly when appropriate. My home, life, and mind will be uncluttered, allowing me to give precedence to that which is most important: the present. I will cherish all the laughter, experiences, and good times. But I won’t keep the receipts, won’t cry if I lose the birthday gift, won’t step into the souvenir shop. I’ll appreciate the here and now without having to worry about sentimentalizing it when it’s gone, because I’ll know that more good things are on their way.

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