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Science Confirms: Watching Nostalgic Stuff Is Good for Mental Health

As we wish

 

It’s been a rough … month, in the midst of a rough year, and I don’t know about you, but for me last week was the nadir. How did I cope besides singing Frozen 2 songs to myself? I watched old movies and my favorite episodes of Supernatural. On Thursday alone I watched White Christmas, Auntie Mame, and Funny Girl. And I felt better. Nostalgia helps me personally cope with stress, and now science has entered the chat to confirm that’s true for most people and explain why.

Speaking to the New York Times, Dr. Wing Yee Cheung, associate professor in psychology at the University of Winchester in England, and a scientist who studies nostalgia, explained why we return to the things we loved from the past when the present is scary and uncertain. “We feel that we have lost footing at the present time, and we gain some comfort by taking a step back and revisiting something that reminds us of a time that we used to feel more connected with other people,” Dr. Cheung told the Times. “It gives you energy to cope with what is going on now and move forward.”

That sounds about right. There’s comfort in what we know, especially when it has a happy ending. Or at least an ending we already know. For me personally, watching movies I saw as a kid, and ones that aren’t set in our world and era are extra comforting, because they both take me away from the stress of today and remind me of the comforts of yesterday. I literally can’t hug my mom right now, but I can rewatch the movies we loved, and that’s not nothing.

“It changes the narrative you’re constantly telling yourself — reminding yourself you do have people who love and care for you even if you haven’t had a hug in a while,” Dr. Lasana Harris, an assistant professor of psychology at University College London, explained. When we play our favorite music, rewatch our favorite shows, or catch an old movie at the drive-in, we’re not just reliving that movie or song, we’re tapping into the way we felt when we first saw it, or all the other times we’ve seen it. Those times felt safer, smaller and now, in hindsight, we know how that ended.

That’s why classics are classics. That’s why something like The Princess Bride has received more attention during quarantine than many new releases. Because we need to hang onto the few things that don’t change, and especially right now, I think we need stories where the heroes win and evil is defeated. Even if things are looking up somewhat in the real world, it’s taking a long time for this metaphorical Death Star to explode. So there’s nothing wrong with watching and rewatching a story where everything makes a little more sense.

(via The New York Times)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.