finding comfort in nostalgia


photo by jon tyson on unsplash

Comfort is the quieting of your mind, even if it’s just for a few seconds. Whether it’s snuggling under a blanket at the end of the day or talking to your closest friend, comfort is something you can always go back to, to rely on. 


Being able to feel comfortable not just physically but emotionally keeps us sane. Having small moments that you can calm your mind to, and that feel familiar. That one movie you watch on repeat, that song that you always play when grieving memories that came at an age you’ve now surpassed. Those things we all find comfort in, we hold close to us. Those moments can be the one thing that’s not fleeting in an ever-changing life. 


Maybe it’s nostalgia or wanting to feel the way you did when that specific thing of ‘comfort’ came into your life. When wondering why I always go back to the same things to feel comfort, I spoke to Kent State psychology professor Robin Joynes to understand the phenomenon from a psychologist’s view.


Q: How would you describe the feeling of comfort? Does it tend to be associated with familiar places or people?

Joynes: “Comfort can often be associated with feelings of safety, calmness, relaxation, and love. For example, a parent makes us feel safe and loved, so that when we are distressed, we turn to take care of us and calm us. By extension, familiar places, songs, food, etc. can also provide that comfort through a process known as conditioning. We associate those places, sounds, sights, and smells with feeling safe and relaxed and loved. Over time, the places, sounds, sights automatically trigger those feelings.”


Q: In terms of movies and music, both are calming for people to take their mind off of their everyday worries. What makes those bring a feeling of comfort, and why do we seek it over and over again?

Joynes: “Watching the same movie and listening to the same songs can be reassuring for several reasons.

 1) Old movies and songs from our childhood can evoke a sense of nostalgia and remembrance of past good times that we had with loved ones that may live far away or are no longer around. 

2) The songs and movies that we have already seen/heard are predictable. Predictability is much more reassuring than unpredictability.

 3) While watching the movie or song, we may forget our present circumstances and be transported into a different world where our lives are happy or exciting or romantic.”


That transport into a different world, and the familiarity of it all truly allows us to go back to those good memories we had, especially for young adults, and many in college away from home; we can all find at least one thing that brings us a familiar joy and ease, through all the changes in our lives. We especially feel it’s necessary to “heal our inner child” which allows many to connect to those same rooted moments we all felt and desperately miss looking back, as life is now much harder. 

My life has had many changes, but some things that will always personally bring me comfort in a nostalgic way are the “High School Musical” movies from Disney. It was a time in my life when I could only envision high school to be as fun as it was in those movies. My innocence of not knowing what it was really like, and fully delusionally immersing myself in that Disney world was and still is a happy moment for me.


Q: Do you have any specific movies, shows or songs that provide you comfort, and if so what are they?

Joynes: “Not me, but my adult children still love to watch Disney movies (and sing the Disney songs). I think that they remind them of a more carefree time in their lives and bring back the feelings they had towards friends and family during their childhood.”


The easing of distress, of any anxiety, a moment to bring yourself back down to remind yourself that these comforting memories make up so many great parts in your life. The constant movement forward, and as we realize the clock will never stop for us, we face the realization to make the most out of our life. Those comfortable moments in film, song and so much more remind us that it’s the small things that make our life so big. What brings you comfort?

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