Welcome to our Youth Talk Blog, a section dedicated to youth lived-experiences with mental health and wellbeing, with weekly blog posts from diverse young people’s perspectives. This is a positive, fun and resourceful space, showcasing young people thriving and connecting with healthful activities, resources and support. This post was written by Elle, our Community Education Volunteer, who is a 23-year-old Communications graduate.
Nostalgia is packed with sentimentality. Reminiscing moments of happiness from our past shows us the building blocks of why we are who we are, and what we find pleasurable about life in the present. It is a complex feeling, often intermingled with longing and sometimes slight sadness. It can be bittersweet, like a happy memory of a friend we’re no longer in contact with, or a childhood home we can’t visit anymore.
So why can it be so comforting to relive the past?
Although the feeling of nostalgia often happens suddenly and accidentally in our daily lives, it can also be intentionally induced. I have found that partaking in activities that are tied to positive memories allows me to utilise nostalgia in a way that is soothing. If you focus on sensory stimuli, it is easier to understand which is most applicable for you, and it is often associated with social experiences. For example, less strenuous activities like listening to music that you danced to with someone important to you, or putting on a movie that you re-watched over and over with a sibling can be easy ways of comforting yourself through nostalgia. Or, one that may require more conscious effort, cooking a meal that your grandparents made for you every time you went to visit.
Personally, I have found that provoking positive nostalgia has been a helpful method for comforting myself when I’m feeling stressed. I don’t like to say that it’s a way of escaping the present, more so an opportunity to find some emotional relief by indulging in my core memories. Revisiting pieces of my childhood is the easiest way for me to feel nostalgic, particularly surrounding entertainment and creativity.
I lived in an extremely remote location growing up, so a majority of my childhood memories are attached to family. A favourite memory that is incredibly nostalgic for me, strangely, is a sick day where I stayed home from school when I was around 10 years old. I needed a lot of sensory stimulation as a child, so being confined to a day in bed was not the most favourable option, for myself and for the people around me. Instead, my Mum spent the day doing low-effort activities with me; we played a video game that was our mutual favourite, sipped away at chicken soup, and painted each other's faces. And while it seems like the activities are the nostalgic part of this memory, it is actually the effort my Mum put into spending quality time with me when I really needed it. The memory is nostalgic because of her. As enjoyable as the activities were, they are more the symbolism than the cause. I still have the same video game, which I play to both destress and feel nostalgic after a tough day, and I even have the photo that we took together of us on the couch with our faces painted like animals. I’m glad we did because at the time I couldn’t have predicted how sentimental that day would be for me 13 years later.
Nostalgic memories are not only a reminder of times when life was good but also that life can be great again; that you can make more memories to match or surpass that level of joy. Life has its challenges and will not always be full of happiness, but we have these good memories to hold onto as reassurance that we can keep collecting new ones as we move forward in time. Difficult periods in our life can often make the experience of nostalgia more powerful because it is hard to have an appreciation for happiness without also knowing what sadness feels like. As the saying goes: “you can’t make a rainbow without a little rain.”