Why Do Millennials Feel So Nostalgic?

Rachel Jones | February 27th 2019

It’s the reason you click on those Buzzfeed articles like “13 Breakfast Cereals that Every 90s Kid Will Remember” or “17 Stationery Items We Need to Bring Back”.

It’s the cause of the hype behind the trailer for Disney’s new remake of The Lion King.

It’s the reason the last book I finished reading was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

That’s right: I’m talking about nostalgia.

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It’s a strange emotion, nostalgia. On the one hand, there’s a warmth and fondness as we remember good times and happy seasons. But at the same time, there’s a sadness that comes from knowing that those moments we long for now exist only in our memory, and we’ll never get them back again.

While every generation gets nostalgic eventually, it seems that millennials have embraced the feeling sooner than any before us. Part of it is technology. Social media likes to remind us of what we were doing on this day three, five or ten years ago—as we look down at our phones on the way to our adult jobs, we smile wistfully as we see a younger, more carefree version of ourselves grinning back at us. We can share pop-culture memes from our childhood at the press of a button. Streaming means that we’re able to re-watch the old sitcoms we used to turn on when we got home from school.

Now, there are some ways in which this culture of collective nostalgia is harmless fun. But has it ever struck you as a bit, well… odd? Sometimes our obsession with the past masks an uneasy relationship with our present and a fear about our future. As the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it:

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”

For it is not wise to ask such questions.

(Ecclesiastes 7:10)

So how should Christians think about the pull of nostalgia? Should we put on our vinyl records and snuggle up with our TY beanie babies? Or is there a better way?  

Eyes on today

Sometimes it’s helpful to look back—it’s just that we need to make sure we’re looking back in the right way on the right things. The book of Deuteronomy contains 16 calls for God’s people to “Remember… remember… remember” what he did for them in rescuing them from Egypt.

We too can reflect and rejoice over the way that God brought us to faith… the people he’s used to grow us… the surprising way he’s weaved together events… the changes he’s made to our character… the things he’s used us to do. Don’t take a trip down memory lane without stopping to admire these flowers of God’s grace along the way. They will certainly be there, even if there are painful nettles in the undergrowth too.

I get most nostalgic when I think back to my time at college. They were years of real spiritual growth for me. Yet our remembering is not primarily meant to leave us with a warm fuzzy glow; it’s meant to help us to be thankful and to press on in the present. Sometimes, we so want to recapture our past that we make stupid decisions in an attempt to claw it back. But in those moments we must remember that God has put us where he wants us, and there are specific “good works” which he has  “prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2 v 10). Some of them will be hard—but all of them are worth doing, and in all of them we are empowered by God’s Spirit.

What lies ahead

The deep fear behind nostalgia is that our best days are behind us. If only I could go back and relive it, we think. Or maybe there’s something that’s not working in your life right now—something which makes you want to go back to a happier, easier era.

But whatever’s in your past or your present, if you’re a Christian then a gloriously bright future lies ahead of you. It’s a future where you will enjoy being sheltered by God’s presence, completely safe and free from fear. A future without any material or physical need. A future that is free from any relational or spiritual sense of longing. A future where the painful memories and fraught “if onlys” all fade as God himself wipes away your tears of regret (Revelation 7:15-17). This is a time worth longing for. And it lies ahead of you, not behind.

Are you suffering from an unhealthy nostalgia? One way to tell is if you’re longing more for your past than you are for this future.

Because one thing is certain: your best days are yet to come.

Rachel Jones is 20-something, trying to keep it together, and ready to say what we’re all thinking. Whether you’re just feeling a bit lost or having a full “quarter life crisis”, her new book Is This It? is sure to encourage you (and make you laugh) as you navigate the challenges of adulting. Buy it here

Rachel Jones

Rachel Jones is the author of Is This It? and the award-winning Five Things to Pray series, and an editor at The Good Book Company. She leads Bible studies for young adults and helps teach kids at her church, Chessington Evangelical Church, in Surrey, UK. Rachel studied History at Manchester University before joining TGBC.

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