A nostalgia expert explains why reminiscing in groups is such a great unifier—at work and otherwise

August 31, 2019 at 02:00AM by CWC

Which Baby-Sitters Club member do you think best describes you?


Well, I’m blonde, wear all black, and feel a constant need to remind people I’m from New York…I’m, ugh, probably Stacey.

The other day at the Well+Good office, staffers were feeling nostalgic about BSC since—fun fact—the series is seeing a big revival in the form of a Netflix series. Within minutes, we were discussing the traits of each character and identifying with them, like a more wholesome take on that Sex and the City game.

Between this and our recent team-wide debate over the best Disney character, I’m convinced that nostalgia is an excellent unifier. It puts everyone back on the playground where they can be friends again.

And according to a real professional who specializes in the psychology of nostalgia, it totally makes sense that throwback energy may lead to team bonding and maybe even friendship. Discussing things like BSC taps into nostalgia’s ability to deal with the tension of needing to belong while still upholding our independent identity. “Each of us has our own life history that has contributed to our becoming the special person we are,” says licensed psychologist Krystine I. Batcho, PhD. “But we need to feel the common bond that prevents loneliness and alienation. Sharing nostalgic memories about trends during our childhood or youth brings back both the happiness we felt then and the feelings of social connectedness we enjoyed during a simpler, more innocent period in life.”

“Sharing nostalgic memories about trends during our childhood brings back both the happiness we felt then and the feelings of social connectedness we enjoyed during a simpler, more innocent period in life.” —nostalgia expert Krystine I. Batcho, PhD

The specific exercise of tagging yourself as a particular character—whether from BSC or SATC, or Sailor Moon, American Girl dolls, the Spice Girls, or anyone else—is effective because since people are naturally divided about which character is the “best,” every person can fill a role. “Nostalgic reminiscences among people who share common backgrounds or interests makes clear that people can be very different without being in conflict,” Dr. Batcho says.

That’s one point for the way feeling nostalgic can double as a bonding technique. But before you break out your paperbacks, here are a few other facets about glamorizing throwback trends to keep in mind:

Millennials have an especially strong love affair with feeling nostalgic

While nostalgia is felt across generations, Dr. Batcho says it’s very potently felt by young adults. Why? The timeframe points to a unique intersection of leaving childhood behind and leaping into adulthood.

To that point, here’s a hot take: Millennials are especially tied to nostalgia because they can’t expertly look toward the future. Prone to burnout and smothered by student loan debt, this generation seems to have gotten the short end of the economic stick. But gazing in the rearview window wearing rose-colored glasses—especially as a group—can facilitate the feeling of being in a momentary safe haven.

“By looking back, we feel assured that something endures throughout our lives of constant change,” says Dr. Batcho. “Nostalgia gives that sense of stability, without which, we could feel a bit out of control as life changes swiftly around us.”

There are isolating limits to the power of reminiscing

While we’re talking finance, let’s not ignore the huge chunk of nostalgia that centers upon privilege. I always find conversations of American Girl dolls to be particularly illuminating because those historical children retailed for like $82 back in the day. Sure, there’s a big discrepancy between kids who owned Samantha (flatly rich), kids who owned Kirsten (me and my editor, both blondes), and kids who owned Felicity (horse girls). But there’s a bigger gap for the kids who wanted Molly, their parents said the doll was too expensive, and now they don’t know how World War II ended.

Jokes aside, your personal background certainly impact the childhood trends in which you were able to participate, so the best way to carry out a nostalgic dialogue is to do so with mindfulness of the other people in your presence.

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The other big barrier, especially in work environments, is when you’re reminiscing among people who grew up in different times. If someone is much younger or older and may not have experienced a cultural phenomenon the same way as the majority of the group may have, they may feel excluded. But, Dr. Batcho is quick to remind me that every person belongs to some generation and some community experience. Because of this, everyone has the power to enjoy the community benefits of nostalgia.

When using nostalgia to bond with co-workers, remember this

Ultimately, all pop-culture trends have the potential to create FOMO. It’s why I’m happy to finally live in a post-Game of Thrones world, like, every Monday morning. And since we have different interests in real, current life, relying on trends of yesteryear may be best to stick to. “Despite the differences of specific trends, nostalgia is universal because everyone can reminisce nostalgically about childhood antics, misadventures, teenage romantic crushes, and all the other experiences that form the rich fabric of all people’s lives,” says Dr. Batcho. Because each, for example, first-kiss story is different, retelling it satiates that need for individuality while upholding a sense of belonging.

I, for one, still vote for implementing marriage of nostalgia and pop-culture. So if you’re among peers who are similar in age, lean into those fun dialogues—about BSC or anything else. Take your co-workers back to the time when the biggest issue to contend with at work was having to look after Jackie Rodowsky.

Since we’re feeling nostalgic, this is why Docs, scrunchies, and other ‘90s trends are back in fashion. And here’s how happy memories can help you stave off depression.

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Author Mary Grace Garis | Well and Good
Selected by CWC