Ever since lockdown, many of us have been pining for days before 2020: a time that was absent of social distancing, Zoom fatigue, and endless Instagram browsing. As we adjust to the new normal, it's difficult for us to envision what it was like to be in close contact with our friends and extended family or to travel without worrying about contracting the virus. 

The modern definition of nostalgia characterizes this feeling as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” Once considered a brain disorder caused by clanging cowbells, nostalgia is now being embraced by researchers due to its psychological benefits in a crisis. In retrospect, life seemed easier when we were not sheltered in place and dealing with the fallout of a global pandemic. Nostalgia provides comfort; it can serve as an emotional pacifier for a time of traumatic distress.

In studies published in 2020 in the journal Frontiers and in 2013 in Social and Personality Psychology Compass, nostalgia was found to remedy feelings of loneliness and, in some cases, to double as a resource for overall wellbeing and mental health. Nostalgic reverie causes people to focus in on past meaningful life events and the importance of their social connections. It increases optimism and feelings of purpose, which are crucial during a time that, for many, seems hopeless. 

Marketers have historically tapped into nostalgia during crises, such as the 9/11 attacks and the 2008–2009 recession. Their logic is that the warm feeling of comfort derived from past memories will make people more susceptible to develop positive emotions towards their brands and products. This evoking of trust, comfort, and security leads consumers to have more confidence in their spending. 

As effective as these strategies may be, don’t fall prey to the expensive cassette tapes and vinyls sold at Urban Outfitters or clothing marketed as “retro” or “vintage” to get your nostalgia fix.

Here are some avenues to cope with the uncertainties of the future without spending too much money—if any at all:

  • Bring your favorite baking shows and family recipes to life. Creating delicious baked goods and pastries with our own two hands requires great concentration, allowing the mind to not focus on the negative happenings of the pandemic. Here are some of our recommendations:
  • Listen to old playlists and your family’s collection of CDs, cassette tapes, and vinyls. Even newer albums that speak on the subject of yearning for times, like Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia or Conan Gray’s Kid Krow, can be worth exploring. These albums were never meant to speak to issues of quarantine or isolation, but are a testament to the meaning of familiarity.
  • Watch your childhood favorite movies and TV shows, with your loved ones either in–person or via Netflix party. Who doesn't love binging The Office or Friends?
  • Dig up your parents' photo albums and collections of retro fashion pieces to recreate old pictures.
  • Connect with an old friend. Though you may feel reluctant to reach out, especially if it's been a while, keep in mind that a simple “How are you?” might be greatly appreciated by the receiving party. 

As 2020 comes to a close, take some time to revel in your nostalgia. Hopefully, this season can be filled with some positive memories that we can look back on in the future.