ver the past decade nostalgia has become synonymous with the millennial generation, popping up in everything from music to fashion trends (hello choker necklaces!) to vintage video games. 

What is nostalgia exactly? Nostalgia is defined on Dictionary.com as a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time. 

It’s the easiest way to transport yourself to simpler times when MTV actually stood for Music Television, everyone had carpal tunnel from mastering texting on a T9 flip phone, and you kept track of your friends through Myspace top friends list instead of the Find My Friends app on your iPhone.

When did the millennial generation start? 

1981 marks the first year of the millennial generation. They were born on the cusp of the digital age, which makes them tech savvy enough to know their way around technology or social media, but old enough to remember a time when people, especially children, weren’t walking around with a smartphone or tablet constantly glued to their hands. 

The simplicity that surrounded the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s was short-lived as the world began embracing new and exciting technological advances. From unprecedented growth in the popularity of television in the 80s to the creation and public use of the internet in the early 90s to the smartphone takeover of the 2000s, millennials have been present for some of the biggest impacts technology has made on the world. 

These advances have created their fair share of benefits such as take out on demand, any TV show you could possibly imagine, and instant connection. So you’re probably wondering, “why are millennials so enamored by the past?” The answer varies from person to person. 

Some millennials are still yearning for the simple life they once knew, while others use the happy memories of their past as a way to find comfort in their presence. Here are some of the main reasons millennials have nostalgia running through their veins. 

The past can be comfortable

Millennial looking at old polaroid photos to reminisce on the past
Take us Back! 

Some say the past will haunt you, but there is scientific proof that feeling nostalgic for the past can be good for your mental health. For most people, surrendering to moments of nostalgia gives them a feeling of warmth and familiarity like coming home for the holidays or going through old photos of you when you were a young, carefree kid.

The future on the other hand is not always so inviting. Getting a new job, starting a family, or uprooting your life for a big move can feel daunting because of the unpredictability of it all. There’s no crystal ball to tell you that everything is going to turn out just fine, but with your past memories, you’ve seen the ending and you know what’s going to happen.

Many millennials are at the point in their lives where they’re ready to make big decisions that will likely change the course of their future. Any ounce of comfort and familiarity feels necessary to cope with the ever-changing world we live in, which is why they retreat to the past so often. It acts as our security blanket as we wade into future endeavors. 

Although nostalgic memories from the past can certainly bring about feelings of happiness and comfort that comfort you in times of uncertainty, it’s important to not get stuck there for too long. 

To cope

The hard truth is that millennials were dealt a pretty difficult hand in life. The oldest millennials, who are now nearing their 40s,  have been around to experience multiple recessions that made it difficult for them to find and keep steady employment. Not to mention they lived through the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the increasing dangers of global warming that caused them to realize the importance of human connection in a world that can be extremely dangerous. 

Millennials' early introduction to technological advances like the internet and smartphones also caused them to grow up much faster than generations before them because they were exposed to so much information. 

So, it’s no wonder millennials attempt to escape the hellfire through nostalgic means. 

Of course, the world millennials have inherited isn’t all bad. It’s lovely having take-out food right at your fingertips and Amazon prime that delivers whatever you need the next day, but those luxuries of today come at a cost of what millennials missed out on. 

In 1990, the average cost of college tuition per year at a public university was $9,560 dollars compared to $21,370 dollars it costs today for the same education. The average cost of housing in the US was $47,000 compared to the $120,000 average price for houses on today’s housing market. Millennials are lucky if they’ll ever own a house due to the ever-rising living expense in most major cities. 

So certain millennials find comfort in the past as a way to escape from the present they’re currently experiencing. When they were younger, the American dream still felt alive and well. It was easy to create a career and a family in America without breaking the bank (literally), the threat of outside terror didn’t loom as large, and education was a possibility for everyone, not just the most wealthy individuals. 

Trying to connect to simpler times

Using the old fashioned technique of finding where you need to go--a paper map.e
“What is that paper thing?” 

With younger millennials growing up in the middle of a technological revolution, it couldn’t have been easy to slow down and enjoy the small things in front of you.  

Most people become nostalgic for the times where they didn’t have as much on their plate to stress about. When you’re young, your worries are limited to friends and activities you take part in, not life-changing choices, bills, and overpriced housing. There certainly wasn’t a worldwide pandemic to factor into the mix either. 

The good old days for most millennials were pre-social media and cell phones. Just living in the moment, rolling around in the mud and playing capture the flag with all of the neighborhood kids until it got dark out. Never feeling the urge to pull out your phone to film a moment instead of being present. It can feel like those simple times are gone with the massive increase in social media use among all generations.

Today kids’ faces are buried in iPads instead of playground sand and their most basic memories involve iPads, iPod touches, and Nintendo switches that weren’t even around when Millennials were kids. 

Always connected without actually being connected

Millennials feel nostalgic for human connection. With today’s increase in social media use among all generations it seems like we’re becoming more connected, but most millennials don’t feel that way.

Since it’s easier to connect to online communities, their involvement in the actual communities they live in is dwindling, which can create feelings of isolation or loneliness. 

This feeling of loneliness is causing more and more people to quit social media and reconnect to the world outside of their phones as they used to during a time when someone’s worth wasn’t based on how many followers or likes a person had. 

So that’s one point for nostalgia and zero for social media. 

Growing up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be 

A woman figuring out her bill payments at the first of the month
As Beyonce would say, “bills, bills, bills”

Simply put, growing up can suck. When you’re young you wish you were older and once you finally get there you want to be young again. You don’t realize adulthood comes with a lot more responsibility than you initially anticipated until you’re fully immersed in it. 

Bills are expensive, taxes are confusing, working 9-5 drains you. We all need a little escape now and then. Nostalgia lets people escape, if only for a second, from the day to day stresses by thinking about simpler times.  

Millennials have the ability to be nostalgic

This is the first generation that was born during the rapid technological transformation. Which means millennials are the first to have the ability to use the internet to transport back to a time when bell bottoms were cool and SNL was still funny.

Thanks to platforms like Bing, Google, and the dozens of streaming services available today, any form of media you could want--no matter how obscure and outdated-- is at your fingertips in the blink of an eye. People in the 1920s didn’t have the capability of watching an old movie and wishing that’s the time period they lived in--because they were living it.

Vintage is cool 

A vintage turntable playing a record in a millennial's house
Millennials love a good record

How many people do you know who go nuts over a cool record or a retro jacket found in the deep recesses of your local thrift store? 

Vintage is back in a big way and it’s not a trend that seems to be dying off anytime soon. You can’t walk down a crowded street without seeing teens or 20-year-olds rocking mom jeans and platform shoes.

Nothing is cooler than finding a band t-shirt or a record that’s genuinely from the early days of rock n roll.  It almost feels like you have a time capsule to the past. 

It’s also typical to hear Millennials musing about what it would’ve been like to live in the 50s and 60s as they watch old movies that are centered less around technology and more on the moment the characters find themselves in. People are fascinated by the past, so much so that they’ve turned it into a fantasy of wanting to go back and experience it.

Millennials were at the forefront of using their nostalgia as a reason to party. Decade-themed parties surrounding times like the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s gave people a chance to feel like they were a part of a certain decade through the varied fashion trends that set the years apart. 

You’ll even see college kids today throwing decade-themed parties where they can dress up like Jane Fonda in an 80s workout video without feeling like they just stepped out of the Delorean in Back to the Future. 

Friends enjoying a moment in the mountains--no technology in sight
Making memories to last a lifetime 

So feel free to step into the past and use those old memories to escape for a little while from the hectic day-to-day that we’re experiencing now. Just be thankful that dial-up internet no longer exists and shoulder pads went out of style for good. 

Mar 8, 2021