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If you’re like me, you fall asleep binge-watching the same seasons of The Office (only seasons 1-6) almost every night, can quote The Princess Bride from memory, get into periods where you listen to the same song on a vicious loop for hours at a time until you can’t listen to it anymore, and have read The Da Vinci Code at least six billion times (rough estimate).
But why, when there’s so much new (and good!) content being produced on a regular basis, do we keep going back to the same movies, shows, books, and songs over and over again?
A big proponent of this is the nostalgia factor of these cultural experiences. When I watch The Princess Bride for the 11th time, I feel like I’m in middle school again and watching it for the first time. There is a certain quality to revisiting things you fell in love with that helps us remember the past — in a way that can really put us at ease.
What makes it feel good to us is this: nostalgia, particularly autobiographical nostalgia — which means you’re remembering a time in your life specifically, rather than historical nostalgia, which is just a general sense of longing for the past — can really be utilized as a kind of therapy. There is absolutely a calming effect to re-watching something you’ve already seen.
The driving force behind feeling good about revisiting old movies and TV shows is that you aren’t surprised. Maybe you pick up some minor details you never noticed before, but for the most part, you are genuinely comforted by the fact that you know what’s going to happen before it happens. You might not even realize this is why you’ve watched the first three seasons of Arrested Development four times or why you use The West Wing as background noise while you doing something else — but there’s this knowledge that what we’re watching is not going to disappoint us or be a waste of our time. We know what’s going to happen. It’s a huge emotional payoff for us.
There is also a small existential element to doing this. If you listen to a song you haven’t heard since you were 10 or if you watch a movie you saw with a friend in college and forgot about until now, it sometimes feels like you’re going back in time. You begin to revisit your experiences and memories, without even trying to. And sometimes those old memories are intertwined with the present, providing you with new insight and perspective into whatever you’re revisiting. It’s incredibly therapeutic and good for you, particularly if you’re feeling anxious.
So the next time you feel stressed because Netflix has just released a bunch of new content and you feel somewhat obliged to try something different, remember that science says it’s okay to watch Harry Potter for the billionth time, even though you could probably recite it from memory. It’s good for you.