I was being glib, WRE. Someone used to call it "nostalgia neuralgia." It's not just a habit of the individual but of the entire culture to idealize the past at times.
The significant thing is that memory is not a literal re-creation of the past. It is fantasy with a particular point of view.
There has been some interesting research lately that seems to prove that the brain has a "natural affinity for narrative construction": The research compared people with mood disorders to those who do not. They found that it's not so much what happened to a person as how he remembers it that shapes identity. The people with mood disorders might have had childhoods that were quite positive by most objective standards, but they dwelled on the negative occurrences. Others, with terrible childhoods, tended to focus on positive occurrences.
The NY Times piece on the research is here:
This interests me for several reasons. One of my discouragements with psychotherapy -- the reason I decided to do a mainly theory-oriented PhD, rather than a strictly clinical one -- was the observation that therapy really is ineffective with many people. (This was after doing a clinical Master's and 3 years of intense training and 2 years of practice.)
Many seem to get caught in a loop of ruminating about everything bad that happened/happens to them. The therapist holds their hand, the client has catharsis, feels a bit better -- and returns the next week for more of the same. In other words, therapy can reinforce the negative memory narrative. The ultimate example of this is primal therapy. They literally even arrange vacations at resorts where everyone can scream for two weeks -- for years.
On the other hand, the movement toward cognitive behavioral therapy doesn't seem to satisfy a lot of people, either, though it is quite useful in treating phobias and the like. People who are more naturally analytical tend to find it ineffective.
In my own work, I started using enactment almost from the beginnning. By treating people's history as a script that can be told from different points of view, I found that clients often were stunned to realize they had a choice about the way they narrativize their lives. Identity is not fixed; it is very fluid. (Yes, this is post-structural thought.)
The research also shows that if you tell your story from the third person, you are more likely to see its positive aspects because you can be more objective. This, too, is completely counter to the usual first-person rumination of the talking cure.
This is why I say that my work has more in common with aesthetics than traditional psychotherapy. It is through creative work that people can discover different ways of viewing their past and present. I have, in fact, done a good bit of work together with a very avant garde theater director from Paris who turned out to be training actors in the same way I work with clients.
Of course, all of this applies to people whose interests are mainly personal growth -- not to people with severe mental health disorders.