SOME PEOPLE LIKE TO COLLECT TOYS. Some collect gadgets. Some collect vinyls. Some collect clothes. Some collect artwork. I like memories. I like making them. I like realizing that they will stay with me for a long time. I like how they come in different forms—cloudy, clear, bright, dark, jagged, smooth—and how they can transport me to a different time and place, even to a person different from the one I nd in the mirror every day. I like being reminded of them.
I like knowing that while I may someday lose my words, I will never lose sight of that one sunny Saturday, the Christmases I’d spend with family, or even the day my elementary school paper adviser announced that she was appointing me editor in chief. ikewise, I’ll never forget about the day I rst cried about a crush, the day my shoes got thrown over a veranda by some bullies, or the day I got so upset I stormed out of a classroom.
In this regard, perhaps there was no one better suited to enjoy the On his ay feature on acebook. hen it rst came out, I was e cited about getting another chance to see old status messages, old photos, and even old wall posts, mostly because of how silly they would be, a bit like reading something you wrote when you were a kid.
Then it turned into something that would give me secondhand embarrassment, by way of the “How on earth did you think this was funny?” or “How did you not think this was cheesy as hell?” posts. This would then spiral into the nal stage—a whirlpool of sentimentality that would have me seeking out anything from that period, much like an archeologist on an action-fueled quest, if by ‘action,’ I meant feelings, and if by ‘quest,’ I meant multiple trips down memory lane.
Facebook’s On This Day feature works much like a scrapbook, e cept that there’s a page for every single day of the year. Remember that trip you took with your friends three years ago? You’ll be able to see photos from that trip. What about your graduation day? You’ll see the video from when you went up onstage and even wall posts from friends and family congratulating you on your achievement. Oh, and you’ll also be able to see the date when you added your crush on Facebook, which will save you time spent wondering when you became friends.
According to TechCrunch, Facebook has also built in rules for the feature’s algorithm to ensure that it wouldn’t bring up negative feelings. If you’ve ever made a relationship Facebook of cial, only to break up later on, Facebook will remember you delisting that person as your romantic partner and will not show you posts including that person in your News Feed, unless you choose to do so. The On This Day feature will also avoid displaying memories of friends who might have passed away.
How can one feature on one social media platform get such a reaction? The answer may lie in emotional memories. In an article on WebMD, writer Miranda Hitti shared that when an event stirs a person’s emotions, the brain takes in as much detail about the event, making it easier to recall. This is probably why we remember defeats and victories in equal measure— the strength of the emotion connected to the event is enough to leave an imprint in our minds.
Clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst Mary Lamia shared, in an article on Psychology Today, that it doesn’t really take much for us to bring back or recall a memory—a date reminding us about an anniversary, a trinket once belonging to someone, or even a song that you used to sing along or dance to together can be enough. Lamia shared that once a memory is recalled, it can activate positive or negative emotions, with a person feeling negative emotions with greater intensity.
Recalling a bad break-up may bring back all the anger, the bitterness, and hurt, and might lead us to wallowing for sometime, while a more positive memory, like a rst date, can be the lift that we need in our day.
Lamia added objects can activate not just an emotion or a memory but also the connection that we had with the person who owned the object, which probably e plains the mad rush of returns that brokenup couples go through. It’s not just getting rid of a potential trigger or reminder, but it’s our way of telling ourselves that it’s time to make some room for new memories.
When it comes to emotional memories, Lamia noted that having a good memory may not be as advantageous as it usually is, as it may require a person to e ercise control over details or potential triggers that can keep them from focusing on the now. It will be up to us to determine whether we can use the memory as a gentle reminder to be more cautious or as straight-up detour, telling us not to go down that road again, maybe try a new one instead.
While looking back can have its side effects, research has shown that nostalgia, now more common thanks to Timehop, Facebook’s On This Day, and #throwbackthursday, does more good for the body. Psychology professor Constantine Sedikides, a known researcher in the eld of nostalgia, noted in two papers they published that while the feeling of nostalgia is triggered by negative moods and loneliness, the e perience of it can create positive effects on the body.
Dr. Sedikides and his colleagues found that nostalgia can help people become more open-minded, which, if channeled in creative behavior, such as writing prose, can contribute to creativity. They also found that there is a relationship between loneliness and nostalgia—while people who feel lonely may feel that they don’t have as much social support, their loneliness can lead to them to recall times when they felt supported by their social network, which could lead them to realize just how connected they are.
As for that warm feeling you get after recalling a good childhood memory? That might actually be nostalgia affecting your body. Dr. Sedikides and his colleagues found that nostalgia triggered by music or by an event actually affected how people would perceive room temperature. The same set of studies also found that people who recalled a nostalgic event showed greater tolerance to unpleasant levels of coldness.
The power of nostalgia seems to be in making us realize that while things have gone south before, they can be good again. Without this reference point, we may remain adrift. We may end up thinking and believing that life will only ever give us the bad. We may end up thinking that life is pointless or meaningless or only ever about the temporary. Nostalgia reminds us that we have embarrassed ourselves before, we have gotten hurt before, and we have grieved before—the difference is now we’re strong enough to dust it off.
I still cringe, sometimes, when I see old status messages or photos. Sometimes, I ask myself why I decided to stick with a long, shaggy haircut or why I thought dropping unambiguous hints would keep my affection quiet and hidden. Sometimes, those memories make me laugh. Other times, those memories feel like opening Pandora’s bo .
The one thing I always ask myself at the end of each day’s On This Day feed is this: Would I change it? Maybe. Most of these memories, though, I’d much rather keep. I may never live down some things, but I don’t know who I’d be without those memories. Maybe I’d be someone who’d never appreciate looking back. If that’s the trade, I think I’m happier on this side.
Maybe nostalgia is a way to remind us to be kinder to ourselves, to seek the help of others, and to grow from our decisions. Maybe the gift of nostalgia is not in making us want ourselves ten pounds, two loves, or three student clubs ago, but in taking refuge in that space where understanding, compassion, and contentment meet.
“It turned into something that would give me secondhand embarrassment, by way of the ‘ How on earth did you think this was funny?’ or ‘ How did you not think this was cheesy as hell?’ posts.”