Homesickness today is dismissed as a sign of immaturity, what children feel at summer camp, but in the nineteenth century it was recognized as a powerful emotion. When gold miners in California heard the tune “Home, Sweet Home,” they sobbed. When Civil War soldiers became homesick, army doctors sent them home, lest they die. Such images don’t fit with our national mythology, which celebrates the restless individualism of colonists, explorers, pioneers, soldiers, and immigrants who supposedly left home and never looked back.
…the problem with homesickness isn’t just that it impedes ambition; it’s that the object of longing, home, is not as fixed as one might think. After the Civil War, for instance, “the transcontinental railroad and steam-powered ocean liners,” Matt writes, “made it easier to return to a physical home and thus, at least theoretically, easier to assuage homesickness. Upon traveling back, however, they found they had not arrived, and never could, for the same technologies that had brought them home had also disrupted traditional ways of life.” The schedules and even the clocks of hometowns had been recalibrated to train schedules and standard time; certain commodities, like ice, reshaped the diet. Traveling back revealed that “home” had been vanquished by time, and a word necessarily arose to define this longing for what was lost: nostalgia.
I want company, even if it’s inorganic…I think some of the happiest years of my life were between 10 and 14 when I had a passion for chemistry in general, and metals, in particular. And now, I’ve left my hometown, and my parents are dead, and my brothers are dead, and so much of the past is gone…this rather childlike, chemical bench-like desk appeals to me, gives me some comfort, and makes me feel at home.
And at the end of it he knew, and with the knowledge came the definite sense of new direction toward which he had long been groping, that the dark ancestral cave, the womb from which mankind emerged into the light, forever pulls one back—but that you can’t go home again. ¶ The phrase had many implications for him. You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dream of glory and fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing’s sake … back home to places in the country … back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time—back home to the escapes of Time and Memory. ¶ In a way, the phrase summed up everything he had ever learned.
What we have discovered in 30 years of research is that there are six main time zones that people live in: two focus on the past, two focus on the present, two focus on the future.
He goes on to segment them into:
- Past positive: focus is on the “good old days”, past successes, nostalgia, etc.
- Past negative: focus on regret, failure, all the things that went wrong
- Present hedonistic: living in the moment for pleasure and avoiding pain, seek novelty and sensation
- Present fatalism: life is governed by outside forces, “it doesn’t pay to plan”
- Future: focus is on learning to work rather than play
- Transcendental Future: life begins after the death of the mortal body
He notes that we all divide our experience into time categories; the difference is simply how. When you’re speaking with someone he or she might be thinking about past experiences, and ignoring the present. You might be doing a cost-benefit analysis and thinking about the future. Are you Past-Positive or a “Transcendental” Future-oriented person? Find out by taking his Time Perspective Inventory, then watch last year’s TED talk on the secret power of time.