It’s said that the strongest trigger of nostalgia is the sense of smell. graphic by Emma Palmer

A love letter to nostalgia

Earlier this week, I found myself swept up in the gentle wave of nostalgia. I wanted to watch the beloved movies of my younger years, eat Pizza Rolls and Gushers and spend time reminiscing on warm memories of my childhood with friends. I think “nostalgia” has a bad reputation for pulling people too far into the glossy, smoothed-over moments of the past. Even its dictionary definition notes that nostalgia is “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period”. This wistfulness implies a kind of melancholy that accompanies feelings of nostalgia.

However, I quite enjoy those feelings of nostalgia. Of course, I may sometimes feel as if I was better off in a past life, but there is so much more to those moments of nostalgia. More than anything, nostalgic memories of “simpler times” of my younger self remind me that simple joy, simple peace and simple friendship can still exist within our present. That simplicity still exists within our everyday lives — moments of laughing at a five-second video, taking a walk with friends or spending some down time doing something blissfully fun can bring about this same joyous simplicity in our (semi-)adult lives.

Beyond this, I am a firm supporter of nostalgic movies and TV shows. I love rewatching a movie where I have the vaguest memory of the plot, the clearest memory of a certain scene and the foggiest memory of what my life was like when I first watched it (typically the glazed over idea of how great my life was back then).

I enjoy nostalgic entertainment because it feels comforting to have a vague memory of what is about to happen. That memory lowers the stakes of the movie and makes me feel at ease throughout its entirety. Beyond what happens on the screen, these nostalgia trips bring me back to the first moments of watching them — who I was with, how I was feeling and what made me watch it. If I turned to these movies when I was feeling weighed down, rewatching them reminds me that those feelings pass. If I turned to these movies when I felt eager for some meet-cute romance, rewatching them renews those feelings of giddy excitement. If I turned to these movies when I wanted to bond with some friends, rewatching them reminds me of their friendship and our shared experience watching it.

Especially during peak COVID-19 times in late spring and early summer, I relied on nostalgic movies and TV to fill my time. This, in combination with being at home surrounded by so many symbols of the past, brought me great comfort. I always felt accomplished after searching the crevices of my memory and finding some long-forgotten movie or TV show to watch in the evening. It amazes me how much entertainment I consumed as a child and how much of that media I still enjoy. Many an evening was spent before a screen watching movies with terrible jokes, the oddest costume design, the strangest characters and several plot holes.

Despite this all, time spent in these nostalgic worlds always filled me with a steady joy and lasting comfort. Although the world may constantly change, we can always return to the everlasting world of 2000s rom-coms and ‘90s TV shows, where your expectations remain true and the pattern of life is uninterrupted. We can always turn to fond memories and the glazed past to find moments of joy and simplicity, shedding light on similar moments within our current life.

In all, I hope that feelings of nostalgia serve you well. I hope that in some way, your present life resembles the ease and delight of the past. Watch that movie you used to love when you were 13. Search the recesses of your mind for that one odd, ridiculous movie you had forgotten, but remember enjoying. You won’t regret it.

Post Author: Julianne Tran