End of the Decade, End of Our Childhood?

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Bruno and Nick

The New Year is just another passage of time, but to many, it holds deep sentimental value as another year passes (Photo courtesy of Pixabay, photo credits to Bruno and Nick, photo art by Peyton Ludwig).

2020: the end of the decade. To many, it’s just another passage of time, but teens are taking it as much more. Having much of their developmental years in the 2010s, this last decade is tied to many memories of their younger years. Because of this, however, many are associating the end of the decade as the end of their childhood. Compilations have been flooding YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram reminiscing on the good times as a kid. They showcase old shows, toys, and movies, but the nostalgia is accompanied by the sorrows of losing them. 

“I’ve been worrying a ton about the end of this decade. It’s just a big reminder of how I’m growing up, and I really don’t want to leave my childhood behind,” said junior Jane Thomas.

The real question is, where did this trend come from and why?

The concept of nostalgia is as old as Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey — known then as Nóstos — but the term wasn’t officially coined until Swiss medical student Johannes Hofer used the term to refer to the homesickness of Swiss mercenaries. Then, it was viewed as a mental illness, but now, it has a much better connotation; regarded as natural, common, and even positive, it’s a term used in day-to-day life to describe the bittersweetness of happy memories. 

Psychologically, it has a surprising amount of benefits. A number of studies have been conducted to research its adaptive functions.

Studies done by psychology professor Krystine Batcho have shown that, “people with a greater propensity for nostalgia are better able to cope with adversity and are more likely to seek emotional support, advice and practical help from others. They’re also more likely to avoid distractions that prevent them from confronting their troubles and solving problems.” 

Southampton conducted a study with one group of people reading about a disaster and another group taking a personality test that “supposedly revealed them to be exceptionally lonely.” Both groups were then more likely to “wax from” nostalgia, which allowed them to feel less depressed and lonely. With depression rates rapidly on the rise, many teenagers today may fall back on nostalgia to feel better about their current situation. 

“It’s been proven that nostalgia actually works to counteract depression. The act of reminiscing has been shown to counteract loneliness and anxiety, while also promoting personal interactions and improving the longevity of marriages. When people speak fondly and lovingly of the past, they also tend to become more hopeful for the future. By recalling the past, they look forward to what’s to come,” said Lauren Martin, reporter for the Elite Daily.

Not only does it have psychological benefits, it also has positive physical effects: a study by Xinyue Zhou of Sun Yat-Sen University that tracked students over the course of a month found that nostalgia was more common on cold days; alongside this, researchers found that people in a cold room were more likely to reminisce than people in warmer rooms. With the fact that nostalgia physically makes us warmer, it suggests that nostalgia even helps us keep warm during the colder months. It only makes sense that nostalgia really kicks in at the end of the year, where temperatures are at their coldest.

Last but not least is the most applicable to teens today: struggling with transitions. With young adults just moving away from home, starting their first job, or other major steps in their life, they’re stressed and worried; in order to counteract this, they fall back on happy memories of their childhood, family, and early school years.

“A lot of times, especially when school is starting back up again…I revisit a lot of childhood memories, like how elementary school was so fun and easy compared to how it is now,” said sophomore Samuel Brooks.

While it has its benefits, nostalgia also has its drawbacks. 

For one, it’s often considered a distortion and idealization of the past. When you recall a memory, you are remembering it as your brain has chosen to distort it, and not the fully accurate picture. To reach stability, we reach for positive memories, letting the bad or boring parts fade from memory favoring what we think the time was like. 

“[Nostalgia is] a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory — not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out,” said psychologist Alan R. Hirsch in his report Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding

Hirsh continues with the idea that nostalgia isn’t about remembering memories at all. Instead of relating to a specific memory, it relates to an emotional state. We assign an emotional state to a period of time and choose to idealize that time. Because of this, we assume that our childhood must’ve been better than right now. This leads to a mournful idealization of the past when it might’ve not been nearly as perfect as we remember. 

“…This is the crux of nostalgia as a feeling; a recognition of absence. What was once had or felt is no longer. These symbols both remind us of what we have lost and provide us with a moment that we have once again,” said journalist Zachary Boren of Contemporary Psychotherapy.

Many people have a complex relationship with nostalgia. It reminds them of the good times of the past, but can cause pain in doing so; it can make them happier, but an idealized past misconstrues it as happiness impossible to achieve. While this may put nostalgia in a very harsh light, it just needs to follow the same rule as anything else — do it in moderation. As long as you never obsess and keep it to a healthy amount, looking back on happy memories should do you no harm.

This is something that teenagers today should take note of. Your childhood wasn’t all sunshine, rainbows, and nothing like the problems you face now; it’s just your brain choosing to block out all the boring, uncomfortable, or awkward parts. You’ve had challenges then, and you’ll have challenges now, but just like then, you’ll be able to overcome them. You may only have memories now, but it’s time to move on and make even better ones in the future.