Recycling Happiness and The Power of Nostalgia

Cassette tape, nostalgia helps evoke positive feelings

2020 has done a number on us. The constant stream of “Breaking News” has been almost enough to break your soul. Watching the most powerful country in the world on its knees has been almost enough to make us question everything we thought we knew about power and human rights. The pandemic has not only caused enormous loss of life and sickness but has forced us apart from those we love like never before. 

For those experiencing mental health difficulties, the never-ending advice to speak to friends, exercise or meditate can sometimes become exhausting, especially during COVID restrictions and all of the worries and anxieties that can bring with it. Sometimes people are just trying to breathe and get through the day. 

I’d like to put forward something a little bit different…. I’d like to suggest we try to recycle & reuse happiness. 

During times of high pressure or high stress I have this funny habit where I almost always re-watch some old TV show from the 90’s or the 00’s (in all honesty it’s usually Gilmore Girls) and almost instantly I feel more at ease. I go to the fridge seeking out childhood favourite foods and I almost always head over to my 00’s playlists on Spotify. 

There’s just something comforting in thinking about old times. The relationships were blood bonds. The food tasted better. Watching your favourite TV show was part of a ritual. The music just sounded better and life ebbed and flowed with less turbulence

Of course the food probably didn’t taste any better, life wasn’t all that much simpler and music… Well music definitely did sound better. 

The power of nostalgia. Pure and simple. 

On digging a little deeper we can see how research points to the many psychological benefits of nostalgia. Linda Rising speaking ahead of the conference for software architecture says this; 

“Research shows that nostalgic reflection makes us more optimistic. It reaffirms our social connections. And by remembering important things about the past, it lays out a vision for a hopeful future (Rising, 2020).”

Countless studies have linked nostalgia to well-being and have cited the many positive feelings and psychological benefits we can experience by allowing ourselves time to engage in nostalgic thoughts. In one such piece of work Routeledge et al (2012) say that:

“nostalgia serves three global psychological functions: it generates positive affect, it maintains and enhances positive self-esteem, and it serves as a repository of social connectedness.” 

There’s loads of different ways we can evoke feelings of nostalgia, some examples could be: 

  • Watch your favourite TV show from when you were a child
  • Eat your favourite childhood snacks (buttery toast and sugary tea, yum)
  • Listen to your favourite album from your teenage years
  • Watch a mashup of old TV adverts on YouTube
  • Search for your favourite perfume or aftershave from your teenage years online and order some
  • Look up some of your favourite spots from your childhood or explore your hometown on Google Maps

These suggestions won’t apply to everyone, no one will know what works for you better than you. 

On days when exercising or reaching out to friends just seems like too much, I urge you to trigger your nostalgia instead. Travel back to a time when the grass almost always seems to have been greener. 

Written by Kayla Cooley, a Postgraduate Research Fellow focusing on suicide in Limerick Institute of Technology as part of the Loss & Grief Research Group.  Kayla is also Co-Founding Director of Community Crisis Response Team and a QPR Suicide Intervention Instructor. Kayla holds a BA (hons) in Social Care Work from LIT and writes her own blog over on