One of modern life’s great pleasures is that little buzz of dopamine that shoots through our veins every time we get a like on social media. It’s not cool to admit it, but we love those likes, we live for those likes.
That sweet, sweet validation that momentarily reassures us that we’re attractive/successful/doing well at life. And it’s not always just about likes either, sharing moments of our lives online has become the norm – it helps us feel connected, in touch with the world, part of something bigger than ourselves. But, since we all went into lockdown, we have been lacking in things to post. No more brunches, drinks, club nights, picture-perfect picnics in sunny parks.
And our profile pages are looking lackluster, to say the least. But our social-media hungry brains will not be defeated and we have already started to find ways to keep up a stream of constant content. Behold – the rise of the humble #throwback post. And posting these nostalgic pictures are about much more than just validation, they are becoming a coping mechanism.
Whether you’re posting a bikini snap from a tropical holiday, your first ever photo of you with your other half, or taking part in the #MeAt20 challenge – posting an old picture has a decidedly soothing effect, so it’s no surprise we’re seeing a boom of them on our news feeds.
New research, conducted by Cewe, has found that looking back at old photos makes 56% of us feel happy, with 30% reporting that it made them feel more relaxed. In fact, people surveyed found flicking through old pics significantly more relaxing than meditating or listening to podcasts.
Aoife, a writer from Bristol, agrees that there is something uniquely cathartic about going through old pics. She says posting throwbacks is helping her feel positive about the future during this bleak time.
‘I’m someone who thrives on time spent outdoors,’ Aoife tells us. ‘I love being up a mountain or in a forest having an adventure; it makes me feel alive, clears my head, improves my mood and makes me feel happy.
‘I can’t go on adventures now, but I have photos of past adventures, and they bring back the memories really clearly. Often, they’ll prompt me to give the friends featured in them a call. ‘It reminds me that there will be more adventure in the future; our chats always lead on to an ever-expanding and exciting list of places to visit and people to meet once this is over, so those pictures turn into plans.’ PR consultant Helen agrees – she says the old pics give her a sense of hope, and remind her that this strange period of isolation will end.
‘Posting throwback pics gives me a sense of light at the end of the tunnel,’ Helen tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I love jetting off to new places and before Covid-19, I did quite a bit of travelling so posting old images makes me feel nostalgic for those good times and also hopeful for the future in that I can travel again one day, whether that’s in the next six months or longer.’
In a way, it’s a funny way to try to make yourself feel better at a time like this – a reminder of what we have lost, what we can’t do. And Helen says the old pics do make her feel a bit sad – particularly about the plans that she has had to cancel. But ultimately, she does think it helps.
‘I think it’s a nice way to look back on memories, and it makes me smile every time I look at my feed,’ she says. Behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings says rediscovering old photos can be a really beneficial form of self-care.
‘Taking the time to look back on our treasured memories can be truly beneficial for our well-being as it can help to evoke feelings of positivity and happiness,’ Jo tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Because of this, we should take more time to appreciate and look back on them. ‘When people review pictures on their phones, studies have shown that this not only helps your memories by enabling comforting and pleasurable conversations with families and friends, but it also triggers primary and positive emotions like joy, love and delight.
Looking back at our photos strengthens memory, relationships and our overall sense of well-being.’ Jo adds that looking back on happy times and special moments creates an ‘emotional bubble’ – she says that we have an auto-response to return to that moment, the image that we see on screen, and that fuses with our wider memories of the occasion that we didn’t photograph.
‘That fusion of emotions stimulate oxytocin, the hormone that promotes feelings of love and bonding,’ explains Jo, ‘as well as strengthening social memory in the brain, and dopamine, known as the ‘feel-good’ hormone, which is an important part of your brain’s reward system. ‘Even looking back at times that may never be able to be recreated again, and might make us melancholy, are still proven to have an overall positive impact on our well-being.’ It isn’t all about personal gratification.
At a time like this, we are all finding ways to reach out and strengthen our connections with out networks. Throwback photos can help us do that. Whether we are nominating each other to share cute old pics, or simply laughing at the state of our best friend’s eyebrows in 2003, old photos can serve as a fun way to reconnect over shared memories.
Social media expert Sara Tasker says the growth of the #throwback is also about gratitude. ‘Throwback photos are a celebration of the moments we previously took for granted,’ Sara tells us. ‘Lockdown has given us fresh eyes to view our camera roll history: the imperfect photos or unimportant moments that we overlooked are suddenly full of significance and joy.