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What’s so Great about Gatsby? Lessons on Living in the Past.

What’s so Great About Gatsby? Lessons on Living in the Past

By Mary Hoofnagle

“And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Like many movie and literature fans alike, I went to see Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby this weekend. I was never a fan of the book. After reading it several times, trying to understand its appeal, I’ve always felt the plot to be depressing, the love story weakly developed, and the characters to be less than compelling-especially the shallow Daisy. I’ve always wondered, “What’s so great about Gatsby?” But watching it through new eyes, it hit me. What makes Gatsby great is that he is a representation of a human condition that we all struggle with at one time or another. We cling to the past. Sometimes fiercely. Sometimes desperately. Sometimes at the expense of our future. Sometimes to the point of our own undoing.

Gatsby builds his whole persona and life around finally having the one thing that eluded him in the past: the love of Daisy. Trouble is, Daisy has changed and although she has also, in part, clung to what might have been, part of her has also moved forward. Daisy, it turns out, isn’t shallow at all. In the end she realizes that holding to the past can be dangerous. After a tragic car accident she chooses her husband over Gatsby because she finally sees that if she doesn’t let go of the past and move forward life will continue to reel out of control.

We have all held on to something. I held on to a lost love for a decade. I had relationships throughout that time. I believed I was moving forward. But for one reason or another things didn’t work out, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. Through reconnecting with my past love I eventually realized the problem wasn’t with who I am or whom I was dating. The real problem was the fact that I was holding on to a vision of what might have been. Who he is today is different than the past. Who I am today is different than the past. What might have been is impossible because we are not who we were. It was time to let go. Time to look ahead. Time to reach out to the glowing light ahead of me, not the green light behind me. Once I did, an exciting sense of freedom overwhelmed me. A world of possibility opened up and instead of feeling complacent about dating, I actually feel excited. For the first time in a long time I can see a future with someone other than this ghost from my past. Not only can I see it, I want that future.

Relationships aren’t the only areas where the past comes to haunt us. And it’s not only the distant past that unravels the joy of the present moment. I, for one, have had trouble letting go of places I’ve lived, friends who have had to move on, jobs I’ve had to leave, arguments I had yesterday, and the speeding ticket I got this morning. Little things and big things alike can take us out of the moment and steal away some of our happiness. It takes a balance of past, present, and future to maintain our joy. We must accept the past, embrace the present, and look toward the future. For the next few weeks I’m going to focus on these tasks. As simple as they sound, they can be complicated to execute. However, with some mindfulness and dedication, we can open ourselves up to more bliss and a healthier way of managing our emotional lives. If you feel that you need any assistance in this process, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment or read more about personal growth counseling on our dedicated page. For additional blog posts related to mental health and movies, you can read Why the Imitation Game Matters, Caregiver Burnout and The Theory of Everything, and Reel Therapy: Mental Health in Movies.

Brought to you by Just Mind, counselors in Austin who are working to provide their clients with the best care possible.


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