Search the Site

Episode Transcript

MAUGHAN:  Okay, weirdo.

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.

DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: what’s the point of nostalgia?

MAUGHAN: Who’s this man flying around in green tights?

DUCKWORTH: Hi, I’m Peter Pan.

*      *      *

MAUGHAN: Angela, today our question comes from listener Mike Hole.   He says, “Sometimes when I’m feeling stressed, I’ll close my eyes and pretend I’m in my parents’ backyard with my old dog, or at my wedding, or pushing my daughter in a swing — all super happy places for me. I think I’d be a healthier person if I had even more of those happy places to go when times get tough.” “Why does nostalgia exist, and how helpful is it?” 

DUCKWORTH: That’s beautiful. This is a happy place question. I guess it’s a nostalgia question.

MAUGHAN: Yeah, so the thing that I thought was really interesting about how he asks this — he uses it as almost a, an escape mechanism, a coping mechanism, maybe you’d say a grounding mechanism, to go back  a happy place and kind of reset himself. And I will say that I have most often thought of nostalgia more as a place that I go when I’m just sitting around with the family and thinking back to great traditions that we have or —.

DUCKWORTH: So, like, not a coping mechanism but just a savoring kind of thing.

MAUGHAN: But I like the idea of it as a coping mechanism.

DUCKWORTH: So, the first time I recall hearing the phrase, “happy place,” like, “going to your happy place,” it was the summer before my senior year in college. And I was very stressed, because I was working at this summer program for little kids. And it was a summer school taught by college students and high-school students.   And I had spent lots of time with kids with, you know, my experience as a tutor and as a Big Sister in a Big Sister program. I had never, ever, ever worked that hard. I mean, it was just brutal. I think there was something about the hours and the pressure of being a teacher suddenly, even though you were, like, 20 years old and you didn’t know what you were doing. And it was just — it was wonderful, but it was extremely stressful. And at one of the staff meetings — the director, she said, “I’d like everyone to close their eyes.” And mind you, this is like 1991, I think, right? So, this is before we did like, “mindfulness” en masse. She’s like, “Everyone close your eyes, and I want you to think of a happy place. And I want you to each go to that happy place, and I want you to see, and hear, and smell, and experience all the things that that happy place was for you.” I close my eyes, and I didn’t know where I would go. And where I did go kind of surprised me. I had this friend, Michelle, who I was really good friends with in middle school — and, actually, by the time that this was all happening, my, like, nostalgia moment, I didn’t even consider Michelle and I to be very good friends, but in middle school, we were best friends. And I would “go down the shore,” as we say in New Jersey. We don’t say “going to the seashore,” we don’t say “going to the beach” — we “go down the shore” in Jersey. And I went down the shore with Michelle to her parents’ second home — this, like, condo. I remember it was on the second floor. It was gray on the outside. I remember it had a deck. And I remember laying out on the lounge chair with, of course, no sunscreen, because those were the days. And I just would go there every time that I was asked to go to my happy place. And you know what? When I opened my eyes, and I got myself back into the present, I have to say, I don’t think it made all of my problems go away, but it was incredibly calming. It was kind of like a balm.

MAUGHAN: I will say, when I go back to my happy place — my family, we would go to this lake in Utah called Lake Powell. We went there every summer with these four other families, an amazing experience. But once in a while, my family would go, just us. And so, one time we went with just my siblings and my parents, and I remember we had what I would call the perfect day. You know, we tubed, and we skied behind the boat, and we enjoyed the sun and each other’s company. And we were all just together. And I — this is so dumb. I’m probably 14 or something, and I said to my family at the end of this day, I said, “If this had to be your last day on earth, this would be an awesome last day.”

DUCKWORTH: You said that when you were 14? 

MAUGHAN: Yeah. And they kind of laughed, like, “Okay, weirdo.” But I honestly — I go back to that as this beautiful place of nostalgia, because there was complete belonging in my family. There was complete unity. There was so much fun. We were outside with the sun and — anyway, that’s kind of my happy place.

DUCKWORTH: You know, the American Psychological Association — I mean, I don’t think they use the word “happy place,” but they do have a definition of “nostalgia.” Actually, they give two definitions of nostalgia. So, according to the A.P.A., nostalgia can mean, quote, “A longing to return to an earlier period or condition of life recalled as being better than the present in some way.” And here’s the second definition: “A longing to return to a place to which one feels emotionally bound. For example, home, or a native land. See also: homesickness.” I think what’s so interesting about these stories that we tell, you know, like, I’m no longer friends with Michelle. You’re not 14 anymore, right? I mean, Lake Powell still exists, and you’re still close to your family. But what’s funny about nostalgia is it’s defined as a bittersweet emotion. So, there is this longing, this sadness, this loss — but then, also, it’s positive, right? It’s always a memory of a very positive moment in your life. And most people enjoy nostalgia.  

MAUGHAN: What I think is fascinating is kind of our attitude toward nostalgia if you look at it now versus how it was once viewed. So, during the 17th to 19th centuries, nostalgia was considered a psychopathological disorder. This journalist Julie Beck wrote an article in The Atlantic called, “When Nostalgia Was a Disease.” So, a Swiss physician named Johannes Hofer coined the term in a 1688 medical dissertation, and it comes from the Greek “nostos,” or homecoming, and “algos,” or pain. So, this idea of homecoming and pain, right? And they thought it was very similar to paranoia. And there were so many examples, especially in wartime, where these people would obviously miss their friends and family. Let me tell you this story: in 1733, the Russian army says there is a, quote, “outbreak of nostalgia.” And they’re on their way to Germany, and the general told the troops that the first person to come down with the, quote, “nostalgic virus” would be buried alive. And the general actually made good on the promise.

DUCKWORTH: Wait, what? 


DUCKWORTH: No. You’re kidding. 

MAUGHAN: Which, as you can imagine, nipped that problem right in the bud. 

DUCKWORTH: Wait, somebody started telling stories about their childhood and then they, like, carted him off, tied him up, and buried him under the ground?

MAUGHAN: The second part, yes. I don’t know that it was stories about one’s childhood. But the fact that it was viewed for a long time as a psychopathological disorder is kind of crazy to me.

DUCKWORTH: I mean, nostalgia, right? So, like, wait, “nos” means home, and “alga” means pain?

MAUGHAN: Yeah, “nostos:” homecoming; “algos:” pain. 

DUCKWORTH: I mean, I think there’s a reason why A.P.A. says, like, “See also: homesickness” — which is different, but it’s related. I mean, when nostalgia is studied by contemporary scientists, I don’t know why it’s bittersweet, and I don’t know why the “sweet” seems stronger than the “bitter.” People get nostalgic for music or somebody they loved but isn’t in their life anymore; things they used to do; feelings they used to have; I mean, even, like, TV shows or movies. You know, I think it’s so intuitive, like, we all know what it means to feel nostalgic. And you can see why it could be considered mostly bitter or kind of borderline on homesickness, or sadness, or grief. Because these are all emotions of loss. But, the positive side is clearly there, right? When I remembered my happy place, when you remember being 14 and being on Lake Powell with your family, for some reason, the fact that that’s no longer true — I’m not in my happy place and you aren’t either — somehow, research now shows that, on balance, it makes us feel better. There’s a nuance though, and I’m thinking about this article by Erica Hepper and Amelia Dennis, “From Rosy Past to Happy and Flourishing Present: Nostalgia as a Resource for Hedonic and Eudaimonic Wellbeing.” So, what these two psychologists suggest is that there are two ways that nostalgia could make us happier. And they refer to this Aristotelian distinction between “the good life” — that’s the eudaimonic life, like a life that is meaningful, a life that has purpose. And then, a different kind of happiness — a kind of, like, shiny, cheerful happiness, the hedonic life. And you can guess where Aristotle landed in terms of, like, which one is the better life — like, yes, eudaimonic. But we all actually have the need, I think, to experience happiness in eudaimonic and hedonic ways. And what these authors suggest is that the evidence on how nostalgia could help you lead a more hedonically happy life is mixed because it’s bittersweet, because the emotional signature — this reverie for things in the past that we no longer have — is not unmitigated pleasure,  right? There’s this, like, afternote — this, like, “secondary tone,” as they put it — of loss and longing. On the other hand, the idea that nostalgia could help us lead a more eudaimonically happy life, there, they say the evidence is really solid. That consistently, when people remember things in their past — and you can randomly assign people to do that in experiments — what you find is that, you know, inducing nostalgia actually does increase measures of eudaimonic well-being, like feelings of social connectedness, feelings of meaning, and identity, and purpose. So, I guess I want to say that when I think back to what spontaneously leapt to my mind when I was a stressed out, whatever I was — 20-, 21-year-old — trying to cope with the summer that I was happy to be in, but it was just the hardest thing I’d ever done — I think maybe there was this, like, remembering a friendship that was, like, where I felt safe. I felt wholly accepted. At least, when I was remembering it, I felt like I was — I don’t know, it was, like, very Little House on the Prairie. Feeling like, you know, you’re Laura with Mary. If that means anything to you. 

MAUGHAN: A reference that I don’t know that I follow.

DUCKWORTH: No, that doesn’t make you nostalgic? Just the words “Little House on the Prairie” make me feel waves of nostalgia.

MAUGHAN: No, here’s what I love about what you just said: you talked about “feeling safe,” I talked about these were “places of belonging.” I think to take it even one step further, what I found super interesting: I read this article. It said, “Why We Reach for Nostalgia in Times of Crisis.” It’s by a journalist named Danielle Campoamor. She wrote in The New York Times, uh, in 2020, and she references this trauma specialist, Florence Saint-Jean, who’s the executive director of Global Trauma Response. And Dr. Saint-Jean talks about nostalgia as a way to cope during these times of duress — that our brains take us to a place — and uses the word that you use — that is “safe.” And it helps us to have a, a group of, quote, “safe places” that we can go to in our mind when people are experiencing trauma. I’m not going to go so far as to say that Mike Hole, who wrote in this question, is experiencing trauma, but he talks about in, “in times of great stress,” he goes back to these moments. Dr. Saint-Jean, again, uses it with her trauma patients. The interesting thing, though, is she’s very pro using this but also warns of a couple of downsides. And one of those downsides that she talks about is, in trauma patients, if they’re always reaching back for nostalgia, especially, you know, if they’re dealing with things now, they have a tendency to just look at their past through “rose-colored glasses.”

DUCKWORTH: Mmm. And get stuck there?

MAUGHAN: Right. They might think, for example, about an ex and a time they were with this person and how great it was, but they forget to think about that they left that relationship because there was a lot of negative things and that’s why they’re no longer with the ex. But the nostalgia takes them only to this happy place. And then the last thing was this idea of it keeping us too anchored in our past in a way that makes it so that we’re just avoiding the future. We’re avoiding the problem. And in that sense, it doesn’t allow us to kind of overcome the trauma that we may be dealing with or the situation that we’re fighting.

DUCKWORTH: Well, it might depend on the person, but I think, in general, when you remember these happy events that are in your past and that you no longer have — in general, on average — they make you more approach-oriented and less avoidance-oriented, right?

MAUGHAN: Oh my gosh, I love that! 

DUCKWORTH: Like, there’s two things an organism can do: it can, like, approach or avoid. And you approach things that are good, you avoid things that are bad. And generally, nostalgia seems to kind of, like, make you feel emboldened somehow, but maybe that depends. I mean, honestly, I’ve been thinking, like, “Why doesn’t this make me feel worse?” And I don’t have a fully satisfying answer. I do think you’re onto something, or this general idea is right — that what nostalgia is is selective attention. It’s — you know, some people would say that animals basically experience the present, but only human beings can do time travel — that we can fully in our minds, like, represent a future that has not come to pass, and we can fully recreate — in as rich an experience as it was when we were there — something that happened decades ago. And so, this question of, like, well, when you do this time travel back to one select memory, and you’re only going to curate the parts that were rosy, I do wonder, like, why wouldn’t you just feel terrible that  that’s not, you know, like, shouldn’t I have, even at that moment, been mourning my lost friendship with Michelle?

MAUGHAN: It’s interesting. I watched a TED Talk that I cannot remember what it was right now, but it was about resilience. And I’ll never forget the question that this person talked about was asking yourself: “Does this help, or does it hurt?” And the example that she used was loss of a child and how sometimes, you know, having pictures of maybe that child everywhere — because she had lost a child, I believe — is it helping, or am I doing something that’s hurtful in trying to remember all these things? Am I going down a spiral that’s just going to hurt my ability to kind of move on? Or is this helpful because it’s a way of honoring the past and honoring their legacy? I think on balance, like you’re saying, it’s generally helpful. But I think that there are times when — like anything, taken to an extreme — there’s a difficulty.

DUCKWORTH: Like, when people grieve. You know, my father died, right? When I grieve for my father, sometimes there is a kind of nostalgia, but sometimes it’s just sadness.

MAUGHAN: Yeah. You know, there’s the old adage, “The past is to be learned from, not lived in.” I think that that is a way to think about this, right? Nostalgia, if it becomes the only thing you have and keeps you trapped in the past and you’re living there, that’s negative.

DUCKWORTH: Maybe you need to visit, but not take up residence.

MAUGHAN: Yes. A much more succinct way of saying. So, Angela and I would love to hear your thoughts on how nostalgia affects your life. How often do you reflect back on the past and how do these memories make you feel? Record a voice memo in a quiet place with your mouth close to the phone and email it to and maybe we’ll play it on a future episode of the show. Also, if you like the show and want to support it, the best thing you can do is to tell a friend about it. You can also spread the word on social media or leave a review in your podcast app.

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: has collective nostalgia gotten us stuck in a cultural rut?

DUCKWORTH: “Don’t roll your eyes the next time you see, like, Rocky XXIX.”  

*      *      *

Now, back to Mike and Angela’s conversation about nostalgia.

MAUGHAN: So Angela, there’s this article, “Hindsight is 2022: The Psychology Behind Our Cultural Nostalgia,” by journalist Kyle Chayka. He talked about one of the challenges of nostalgia is that culture can get stuck on a loop. And he uses the example of movies. He says, “Unable to imagine the future . . . we return to the past.”  

DUCKWORTH: Oh, you mean there’s like, sequels, and there’s like, “the eighth,” “the ninth.” It was a big deal when, like, Rocky II came out because we were like, “Oh, come on! Seriously? You’re going to make Rocky II?” And now I don’t know how many Roman numerals there are after Rocky, Mission Impossible —. 

MAUGHAN: Well, and you look at The Fast and the Furious franchise; you look at the Marvel movies. We just got kind of crazy with it.

DUCKWORTH: This is a negative view of nostalgia then, right? I mean, to state the obvious, but just to make sure. This is like “uncreative,” “stuck in a rut” nostalgia.

MAUGHAN: Yes, I think that that’s what, what this article was referring to is, “Hey, culture is stuck on a loop because we’re staying in nostalgia, and we’re not inventing new things.” Like, a journalist, Imran Rahman-Jones, who writes for the BBC, wrote about this remake nostalgia thing where Disney has done all of these remakes, and with their six recent remakes, as of 2020, they’d made almost $6 billion at the box office.


MAUGHAN: The remakes were The Jungle Book, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Aladdin, Dumbo. They’re things that we experienced in our childhood, and then your kids are old enough — or grandkids — and you want them to experience it.

DUCKWORTH: Then we cart them off to the movies because we want to relive it ourselves, right? It’s not nostalgia for our kids, it’s nostalgia for us.

MAUGHAN: Exactly. But because the parent is buying the ticket to the movie, it works. So, I think that was the argument against it — that culture gets stuck in this loop, and maybe we are not as innovative, maybe we’re not coming up with as many new stories.

DUCKWORTH: You know, it’s interesting that that’s the conclusion of this article, because you could have ended that article saying, look, you know, “Don’t roll your eyes the next time you see, like, Rocky XXIX.” Like, it’s just human nature to want to do this emotional time travel and relive this thing that was special to you, right? Like, yeah, you could say, “It’s getting stuck in a loop. It’s being in a rut. It’s not moving forward.” And sometimes, I guess, that’s just an accurate description, but in some ways, I’m like, “What? They remade Mulan? Like, I can’t wait to, like, add that to my playlist. I’d love to watch Mulan again,” right? So, the fact remains — and actually there’s new research on this — that nostalgia is a universal human experience. There is a study that was done across 28 different countries with thousands of adults, and they surveyed people about nostalgia and also the effects of nostalgia. And what they found was that in every culture around the world that they had studied — these 28 different countries — nostalgia was, like, immediately understood; it was always experienced as bittersweet and mostly positive; that recalling a nostalgic memory increased social connectedness, a sense of self-continuity or identity that was consistent over time, and also meaning in life. So, the fact that this very complex emotion is so universal makes me think that even though there is a kind of, like, “stuck in a rut” aspect of it, almost by definition, I think in a way, this mental time travel that we do — I think it’s possible to have these bittersweet memories but to have them mostly be nurturing.

MAUGHAN: Well, the phrase that I loved that you said from the research was “self-continuity.” It does give us that groundedness and I think helps us to figure out who is the “self” that I created? What are the moments or places — even if they are romanticized in our minds a little bit — those give us memories that give us a foundation. But it’s this continuity of self that maybe is why it’s so helpful, because it’s not “an anchor” in terms of, like, an albatross that’s dragging you down, but an anchor that’s more of a foundation that’s allowing you to continue to build. You know, I know where I came from. I know what moments made me who I am today. And maybe that’s why when Mike Hole goes back in these stressful moments and says, “Hey, I want to go to my wedding. I want to go to pushing my daughter on a swing” — it’s identifying who he is and that his self-continuity is not his job; is not that stressful moment; it’s not what he’s dealing with in that vortex of, of life sometimes, but it’s really, “Hey, who am I?” And I can create the self-continuity that reminds me to go back to my foundation instead of reacting to the situation that we’re in — that frankly, no matter how stressful it is, we’re going to forget in a month or three mon — like, I can’t tell you how often in life, you know, I’m dealing with this thing at work or whatever and you’re like, “This is the biggest deal ever!” And then, I can’t remember it. 

DUCKWORTH: And this is, like, the worst thing ever, you know? 

MAUGHAN: Right! “We’ll never get over this!”

DUCKWORTH: Mountains in retrospect are molehills. So, you know, the other day, my friend Naomi calls me. My friend Naomi is somebody that I have stayed in touch with and she was my best friend in high school, not middle school. And we started, I don’t know, nostalgizing. I think I said to her like, “Oh my gosh, do you remember when we used to take the train in from the suburbs to Center City, Philadelphia, and we would walk down Walnut Street” — like, the street with all the fancy jewelry stores and clothing shops. “And do you remember when we would buy a little cup of soup” — not a bowl of soup, because I don’t think we had enough pocket money to buy a whole bowl of soup, but we got the cup of soup because it came with a free roll, like, the same size roll as if you buy the bowl of soup. She’s like, “Oh my gosh, yeah! And then, on special occasions, do you remember going to The Wok? Is The Wok still there?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, Naomi, it’s not there anymore. Like, this Chinese restaurant where you used to always get the Kung Pao chicken, right?” She’s like, “Yes! I remember that.” Anyway, so we take this walk down memory lane. And I think, in a way, when you’re talking about this self-continuity and our narrative — you know, we’re about to talk about personality a lot on No Stupid Questions, like, we’re going to have a series on the “Big Five” personality traits. Other psychologists who are not “Big Five” personality researchers think there’s a dimension of our personality that we would best label as our “narrative personality” — the story of Mike Maughan; the story of Angela Duckworth. And I think what nostalgia means to me is that it is a connection to the story of my childhood and my young-adult years. It is this continuity. I guess it is rose-colored. You know, I could have remembered terrible times with Naomi. But I do think it is who I am today. Like, it’s gone. Those stores aren’t there. The Wok’s not there. I don’t get to walk around with Naomi. I hardly talk to her these days. But it was there, and that means it’s kind of still part of me. Angela, I want to end with the story of Peter Pan.

DUCKWORTH: I never read Peter Pan. So, I’m all ears, but don’t expect me to experience nostalgia.

MAUGHAN: Are you serious? 

DUCKWORTH: Am I the only person who didn’t read Peter Pan? Yeah, I’m serious. 

MAUGHAN: Or have you seen any of the plays or movies or —.

DUCKWORTH: No! I’m Peter Pan-free.

MAUGHAN: Oh — I don’t even —.

DUCKWORTH: You can’t believe it, can you? You cannot believe it!

MAUGHAN: The story is that they’re — oh, where do we even start? 

DUCKWORTH: There’s a little boy who can’t grow up or something?

MAUGHAN: Wow. Peter Pan is a boy who lives in a place called “Neverland.” And Peter Pan and the Lost Boys are all little kids. And in Neverland, they never grow up. And there is this mean guy named Captain Hook who is, of course, an adult. And Captain Hook has other pirates, and they’re the arch nemesis of Peter Pan. And so, of course, it’s setting up this idea of childhood versus adulthood and, you know, the joys of childhood, and imagination, and all of these things. But Peter Pan comes to see a family. And so he sees these three siblings — Wendy, John, and Michael — and he watches them sleep sometimes — which sounds so creepy. It’s not in the way it’s written. But he comes in to their bedroom. Again, sounds so creepy, I guess, when you think about all these things. And he can fly, and he’s teaching Wendy, John, and Michael at some point to fly, because they all are going to go together to Neverland.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, he, like, at some point introduces himself to these three children? Okay. Got it.

MAUGHAN: Who’s this man flying around in green tights?

DUCKWORTH: Hi, I’m Peter Pan.

MAUGHAN: But this is what he does when he teaches them to fly — and this is a quote from the book — “You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts, and they lift you up in the air.”

DUCKWORTH: Oh God, I love that.

MAUGHAN: Isn’t that beautiful? And so,   I love this idea. Now again, this is not just rose-colored glasses. This is not just, “Hey. Avoid your problems.” But I do think there’s something really beautiful coming from this question from Mike Hole, who’s saying, “Hey, in these times of stress, I go to this place.” And maybe it’s: “You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts, and they lift you up in the air.” And you can kind of rise above the stress of the moment. You rise above whatever you’re going through. And nostalgia can be that place of anchoring. It can be that place of foundation, that place of self-continuity.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. And you can see the whole landscape from this place with perspective, which we generally can’t do when we’re feeling stressed. Our vision goes, you know, like a laser to the thing that’s the problem. Maybe that’s why we were doing that exercise, right? When I was 20 or 21, listening to somebody just walk me through this. But I think actually that is what happened. Like, it gave me perspective, and I was like, “You know what? In the grand scheme of things, there’s a lot to be grateful for. And in the grand scheme of things, this is going to be okay.”  

MAUGHAN: I will say one of the best pieces of advice I heard recently was from — someone was telling me about a children’s book — I don’t know what book it is. But the entire book just repeats over and over the two words, “Zoom out. Zoom out. Zoom out.” And maybe that’s the power of nostalgia. Put simply, “It allows you to zoom out.”

DUCKWORTH: Zoom out, and then zoom in on this very positive, probably highly-curated memory. So, I think maybe this positive time travel that we do is exactly what you said. It kind of, like, lifts us up. And maybe that’s why we do it when we’re myopically focused on our problems. But I think it’s such an interesting, complex emotion.

And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation:

Florence Saint-Jean is the executive director of Global Trauma Research, not Global Trauma Response. The TED Talk about resilience that Mike refers to is “The Three Secrets of Resilient People,” from 2018, by Lucy Hone — who happens to be a former student of Angela’s. And the children’s book Mike discusses at the end of the episode is Zoom, by Istvan Banyai — although it doesn’t contain any words, just pictures.

Finally, Mike gets a few details wrong about the story of Peter Pan — at least as it’s told in the original 1911 novel Peter and Wendy by Scottish author and playwright J.M. Barrie. Mike says that Peter Pan and the Lost Boys never grow up. In certain adaptations of the story, this is true, but in Barrie’s classic, the Lost Boys do have the capacity to grow older and are eventually forced to leave Neverland. Also, Mike says that Peter teaches Wendy, John, and Michael that in order to fly they just need to think lovely, wonderful thoughts. Peter does say this in Barrie’s book, but the children find that his instructions don’t work and that they actually need fairy dust in order to fly.

That’s it for the fact-check.

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some thoughts about last week’s episode on gut instincts.

Anthony D.: Hello NSQ. I have a story where I ignored my gut. I had just purchased a car three weeks earlier and drove to work during the rain. There was parking along the side of the building and the first position closest to the loading dock was vacant. This never happened. I pulled right in. And when I opened the door to get out, I noticed a lot of water was swirling around a drain right by that space. I thought about it for a moment and then shrugged it off and went in. Three times, I got up from my desk during the morning to go out to check on the car, possibly even to move it. And three times, I stopped myself and sat back down at my desk thinking, “Nah, there’s nothing wrong.” Then suddenly there was an announcement over the PA. “Hey, anybody parked by the loading dock in the back of the building, you need to move your car. It’s flooded.” I went running out there, there was a crowd, and there was a huge pool of water, and water above my door wells. I should have listened to my gut. Anyway, that’s my story. I hope you enjoy it. 

Isabella VILLEGAS CORREA: Hi, Mike and Angela. My name is Isabela from Medellín, Colombia. And I just heard your episode on when to trust your intuition. And all through the episode, I kept thinking about my career choice. When I was in high school, I used to be, like, a physics nerd. I went to math and physics olympiads. And it was very clear to everyone around me that I was going to go into physics, or maths, or engineering, or something of the sort. And somehow, I was really into literature, and I discovered historic novels, and about three months before graduating high school, I was like, “Oh no, wait, I don’t want to be an engineer.” I decided to go into history, just like that. And it was a big shock for my family. My dad’s an engineer, and he didn’t quite get it. And well, I went into history, I did the program, and now I have fantastic work as a curator and an investigator at a science museum, and I design museums for other parts of the world. And in the university I met my girlfriend, and now we have a beautiful house that we just renovated. And we have a really, really nice, quiet life. And yeah, like, I went with my gut against everything that was planned for me, by me, and it turned out great, and I don’t know, maybe that’s not the way you should always choose your career, but I do believe gut has a big role into what we really really want and we really really like in our soul.

That was, respectively Anthony D. and Isabella Villegas Correa. Thanks to them and to everyone who shared their stories with us. And remember, we’d love to hear about your experiences with nostalgia. Send a voice memo to, and you might hear your voice on the show!

Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: how fixed is your personality?

MAUGHAN: I’m really happy again. I laugh more freely. I’m much more comfortable with myself and who I am.

That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.

*      *      *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. The senior producer of the show is me, Rebecca Lee Douglas, and Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. This episode was mixed by Greg Rippin with help from Jasmin Klinger. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening!

DUCKWORTH: By the way, you did not mention the Star Wars franchise. You better not, or you’re going to get, like, death threats.

Read full Transcript




Episode Video