Diagnosis Nostalgia: Millennials and the Search for Happiness

90s nostalgiaMy generation, the so-called ‘Millennial’ generation, is prone to fits of intense nostalgia, flooding search engines with keywords like ‘theme song from Ducktales,’ ‘Wild and Crazy Kids cosplay,’ and ‘when MTV actually aired music videos.’ Our constant attempts to live in the past provoke laughter in older generations, given that we’re all under the age of 35.

‘What have you got to feel nostalgic about?’ they ask, in the same tones that criticize complaints about aches and pains we are “too young” to have.

Hey, we can feel nostalgic about anything we want. The 80s. The 90s. A time when boy bands weren’t actually boys. Days before ‘twerking.’ A better time. A simpler time. Days when a college degree got you a job and Blockbuster was still a thing. Why wouldn’t we want to hide from wars, a poor economy, and an increasingly polarized country, in a world where Britney Spears is a fresh-faced girl-next-door, and there are at least two bookstores in every mall?

The shock of realizing Legends of the Hidden Temple is 20 years old sends us scrambling for our water shoes, mouth guards, and Red Jaguar t-shirts. It’s the technology of the internet that enables our quest, the way Web M.D. encourages hypochondria or Fox News induces paranoia. But while the internet allows us to dip our toes into a time when we were carefree children instead of Boomerang Kids, it’s the very evolution of that technology that fuels the desire to retreat in the first place.

This chronic condition in 18-30 year-olds is a result of having witnessed radical changes in tech in a relatively short amount of time. Computers have gone from giant towers of blinking lights to pocket devices we check in the bathroom; cars run on electricity and are very near to driving themselves; much of the futuristic technology from Star Trek: The Next Generation is already obsolete. With so much change so fast, the concept of ‘old’ changes too. A first generation iPod is an antique, a Gameboy is retro, and cell phones – forget about it. We don’t need chronological time to determine when we’re allowed to miss childhood trends; our clocks are running fast.

And now, in this hyper-connected society we inhabit, we have a chance to share those halcyon days in a way we never could then. It’s a shared experience of escapism that glorifies past frivolity because of an uncertain, even dystopian future, a virtual way of holding hands and telling each other, ‘Yeah, I remember.’ For Millennials, nostalgia is comfort.

You want us to shut up about ‘way back when’? Give us a reason to look forward.

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  1. Speaking for myself, it certainly doesn’t help that much of current television just isn’t appealing – there’s just so much navel-gazing angst, insipid writing, or boring plots out there – and so retreating to shows I know are fun and interesting is often the more favorable option. And, of course, the fact that many of these shows are now being released on DVD and Netflix only makes it easier.

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