By Martha Tesema
It’s safe to say we’ve reached peak nostalgia.
Whether it’s in the music we listen to (“1999” by Charli XCX, anyone?), the shows on Netflix that are all about various decades, or the proliferation of Timehop screenshots and #ThrowbackThursday posts (who hasn’t participated in at least one?), it’s pretty clear: The past is our friend, and we find a lot of joy in taking trips down memory lane.
Nostalgia, at its simplest, is a feeling of longing for a particular time in our past, one filled with happy associations. It’s memories, plus the feelings attached to those memories.
In her extensive work around nostalgia, writer and professor Svetlana Boym coined two types of nostalgia: “restorative” nostalgia and “reflective” nostalgia. Boym deems restorative nostalgia as the kind of longing for a past that you act upon, and hope to bring back into the future. It’s the kind nostalgia that’s present in pretty much every Drake lyric, when he mentions calling an ex-lover. Reflective nostalgia, on the other hand, focuses just on the emotions evoked from drifting down memory lane, with no need to recreate the actual experience. Just the fact that a memory or experience existed is enough to satisfy.
Spending time with either forms of nostalgia—especially reflective nostalgia—can do wonders for our brains. Research has shown that nostalgia can ease our anxiety and loneliness, especially during moments of transition (looking at you, 20s and 30s).
Researchers have also found that nostalgia can power empathy and a sense of connectedness amongst people. Plus: It can help us create a better future for ourselves. By tapping into experiences in the past, we’re able to create a sort of imagined reality that may play out in the future.
Knowing the perks of nostalgia, the recent obsession with it makes a lot of sense. Recent studies have shown that stress, depression, and anxiety are at an all-time high—and over 40 million people deal with anxious thoughts in the United States alone. Rates of loneliness have also doubled in the U.S. in the past 50 years, leading to what some experts call a “loneliness epidemic.” Rewatching She’s All That for the 30th time (even if you’re noticing how it’s kinddd of problematic)? It’s one tool to help you cope with it all.
There are so many different ways we can tap into the positive feelings of the past outside of dressing in all denim, a la Britney and Justin.
Today, if you’re feeling stressed or anxious, try greeting the feeling with nostalgia using these different types of throwbacks:
Crank Up the Tunes
In my parent’s homeland of Ethiopia, there’s a whole genre and style of music dedicated to nostalgia called tizita. In this style of music, the ebbs and flows of the stringed instruments or vocals invoke a feeling of nostalgia—even if you don’t understand the lyrics.
While traditional Ethiopian music might not be your go-to, music from your past serves as a scientifically proven trigger for memories and nostalgia. Music you listened to from the ages of 12-22 is especially powerful to revisit since it’s tied to such a formative time in your life. Try tapping into the feelings that come from bumping that ‘90s playlist or playing that one song that was the soundtrack to your first crush.
Break Out the Old Pics
The next time you can, try flipping through an old album. Feeling the tangible relics of the past can kick up some serious nostalgia and a sense of comfort.
If physical photos aren’t an option, try digging through your digital archives. Take some time to scroll through the memories, and don’t be afraid to share them with the people closest to you. Or, pop in a film you loved during childhood (a favorite Disney movie, maybe?) and tap into the feelings you felt when you first saw it.
Revisit Old Voicemails
Whenever I miss certain people in my life, the first thing I like to do is listen to an old voicemail they’ve left me. There’s something wildly comforting about tapping into a moment of the past, audibly.
If you don’t have a library of voicemails to turn to: try listening to Shine’s Sleep Stories in our app. They’re boring retellings of ‘90s rom-coms like Clueless and She’s All That. They’re fun enough to keep you interested, but dull enough to help you fall asleep. You’ll tap into the power of nostalgia and catch some quality Zzzs.
Cook Up Some Comfort
Assistant professor of psychology Jordan Troisi conducted a study in 2015 that showed that people are more likely to prefer the taste of comfort food when they were experiencing moments of isolation—which makes a lot of sense.
Comfort food is entirely subjective, but the smells of those foods can trigger positive memories, which may explain why we reach towards the mac and cheese during cold, winter months. Just me? Cool.
Try cooking up a favorite recipe from family dinners past, or maybe recreate that recipe you had at one of your most memorable meals with friends. You’ll get a blast from the past and a tasty meal.
However you decide to tap into your past—whether it’s watching Clueless for the 100th time or cringe-reading your old MySpace profile—incorporating a bit more nostalgia into your life can make for a more connected, stress-less present. And maybe: an even brighter future.