03/27/2012 11:41 am ET Updated May 27, 2012

The High Cost of Nostalgia

It's not news that over the last few years, college grads from Bakersfield to Boston find themselves packing up their hard-earned diplomas and moving back in with mom and dad while they search for jobs and defer their student loans. Fun times. Almost every new comedy pilot coming to a network near you revolves around this phenomenon of adults forced to coexist with their crazy parents again, camping out in the basement and tripping over their old soccer trophies as they wonder why they bothered going to college at all, what the future holds, and if they'll ever have health insurance again. Notice these are the comedies. Maybe this dilemma is too real for drama right now. Coating the issue with funny one-liners and a laugh track helps the medicine go down.

It makes sense that this moving back home trend would spark a bit of nostalgia. Times are tough. The real world hovers over us like a scowling, grey curmudgeon devoid of prospects and full of scary questions like "Why did you get into all this debt?" or "Maybe it would better to just bury your degree in English Lit, take off to the Arctic Circle, and ice fish for the rest of your life?" Yearning for the good old days of dorm rooms and keg stands sounds pretty peachy compared to what's out there. Yet it seems like what used to be a normal dose of nostalgia ("I miss recess and summer vacations... Oh well back to work") has given way to an extreme version of nostalgia that has twenty-somethings all over the country pining for the rainbows and unicorns and My Little Ponies of their youth. This brand of nostalgia feels much more real than the fleeting daydream of recess, as if twenty-two year olds truly do want to crawl back into their TVs and live safely tucked inside their favorite 80s sitcoms forever. Sallie Mae and health insurance don't exist in Saved By the Bell or Small Wonder -- just poufy hairdos, unrequited love, and nosy neighbors. Nice, easy problems.

It just takes a quick glance at a few blogs and sites blowing up across the Internet to witness this extreme nostalgia. Whether they can't get jobs or just don't want to bother with lame grown up things like punching the clock, people are seriously regressing. Endless articles about "What I Miss Most About the 80s" or "Why I Started Playing Barbies Again... at 22" sound far-fetched and silly, but these aren't just one-off sentiments. They're everywhere, and it begs the question: If people are spending so much energy reaching back for the toys and symbols of their youth, how can we find the motivation to move forward?

It's not fun being thrust into the unknown. It sucks when you've been told to work hard, study, graduate, and the world is yours to conquer, only to find that a master's degree is about as powerful a weapon as a handful of glitter in these fun-filled economic times. Maybe it is harmless -- all this hankering for Hello Kitty and He-Man. Or maybe it comes at a price.

The payoff for working hard isn't what it used to be, and it was that payoff that allowed generations before us to adopt a thick skin and a strong work ethic. Now it seems like college interns expect to sit at the head of the conference table while someone goes to fetch their soy latte every day, and not the other way around. There's a cynicism and resistance to working hard for The Man. There's a sense of entitlement. One intern I hired at my last job whined to me, "It's not my job to get coffee for the CEO. This sucks." Newsflash -- yeah, it kinda is. At it's best, this attitude can inspire someone to create their own company, build their own website, and to not rely on a CEO's approval and the vague promise of a raise to light their way.

Maybe this extreme nostalgia is just a passing fad, and grown women will realize that spending time wishing they were Princess Jasmine maybe isn't the healthiest way to evolve into an adult. Like I said, it's not fun facing down that scowling, grey curmudgeon. Recess and Fruity Pebbles were pretty awesome, but they're in the past. Hold on too tightly and you might just miss out on the crappy, difficult, seemingly impossible obstacles that everyone faces in life -- the obstacles that make you a tough, resourceful, mature human being capable of living a pretty good life even when things get hard. Who knows if there's a price to pay for leaning too comfortably on nostalgia. Maybe time will tell.