Nostalgia can cheer you up

This is part of our daily newsletter series. Want this in your inbox? Subscribe here.

By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor

When I’m having a bad day, I know I can always count on Galaxy Quest. The 1999 cult favorite has been ranked among the top ten Star Trek films of all time, and no one less than Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet has dubbed it a “perfect” movie. But for me, the calming effect comes from the rush of nostalgia. A re-watch either sends me back to my college years, when cosplay and fan forums were still fairly fringe, or all the way to my childhood watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my parents on pizza night.

It’s probably not that shocking to say nostalgia can lift your spirits, but I was intrigued to find out just how popular it has become now as a coping mechanism in the age of COVID-19. As Nicole Johnson reports for Nat Geo, people are increasingly using old TV shows, movies, music, foods, and fashion as a balm for pandemic-induced stress. “I believe many are turning to nostalgia, even if they do not consciously realize it, as a stabilizing force,” psychology professor Clay Routledge tells Johnson. Pictured above, a Jurassic Park/Jaws double feature at a drive-in in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, in June.

Families are even pulling out more old-school board games and retro activities to bond with their kids in a summer limited by social distancing, Julia Ha reports for Nat Geo Family.

This craving for vintage comforts has legit psychological benefits; while nostalgia was once derided as a demonic plague or a brain disorder caused by (of all things) Swiss cowbells, modern medicine has come to embrace the power of nostalgia to help us “buffer against existential threats” and even treat cognitive and neurodegenerative diseases.

On the flip side, nostalgia comes with built-in assumptions about a rosier past that may not have been so rosy for marginalized groups, or for individuals who experienced traumas. Plenty of people with a longing for a bygone age are either coming from a privileged past or ignoring the suffering of others, and nostalgia can be a damaging tool in the hands of various political parties. But as Rebecca Ruiz points out at Mashable, there are ways to confront issues such as racism and sexism in our nostalgic favorites and better empathize with the people they harmed.

According to professor Hal McDonald, you’ll get the most psychological benefits if you can focus on what’s called reflective nostalgia, which “savors the past with the full knowledge that it is, in fact, past, and can never be relived again.” Fair point—I’m actually grateful to live in today’s world of mainstream science fiction movies and more inclusive fandom conventions.

But when it comes to coping with our ongoing crisis, I can only say: Never give up. Never surrender.

Do you get this daily? If not, sign up here or forward to a friend.

Your Instagram photo of the day

View Images

Cleaning the mosque: Photographer F. Dilek Uyar shows a worker cleaning a mosque in Turkey. The mosques were closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus but have reopened within the framework of social distancing and hygiene rules.

Related: The most beautiful mosques in the world

Are you one of our 141 million Instagram followers? (If not, follow us now.)

Today in a minute

Breaking with a founder: The Sierra Club today announced it was ending its blind reverence for legendary naturalist John Muir, the group's founder, because he also was racist. “It’s time to take down some of our own monuments, starting with some truth-telling about the Sierra Club’s early history," said Michael Brune, the group's executive director. Muir, who has key to preserving California's Yosemite Valley, and Sequoia National Forest, had often denigrated African Americans and Native Americans.

Hurricanes and Amazon fires
: What do the two have in common? An unusual buildup of heat in the tropical North Atlantic, writes Madeleine Stone for Nat Geo. Bear with me: The oceanic heat has caused the Atlantic hurricane season to get off to a record-fast start. Some research suggests a link between hurricanes themselves and bad Amazonian fire years. “What I think is happening is the ocean is forcing both of those conditions,” says Chris Landsea, a research meteorologist with NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.

How hot is it? It’s not even August, and water temperatures in the Great Lakes are blowing away records. The abnormally warm waters, consistent with climate-change trends in recent decades, could compromise water quality and harm marine life, the Washington Post’s Jason Samenow reports. Last winter, the five lakes—Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario—barely froze, though the surrounding inhabitants there have long depended on ice, Nat Geo’s Alejandra Borunda has reported. Meanwhile, a new report says human-caused warming is behind record temperatures in the Arctic and Siberia.

Better food when this is over: The shock to U.S. food chains from the coronavirus has been a boon to small- and mid-size farms and distributors. Could it be the start of a new way to get food? Experts are seeing a new matrix of business and personal relationships around which regional agriculture could grow, post-pandemic, and ultimately advocate for its own interests, Saul Elbein writes for Nat Geo.

This week in the night sky

View Images

Delta Aquarids Peak: The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower is visible until August 23. But you should watch for this annual sky show to really ramp up starting late Monday and lasting through July 30. On peak nights just after the quarter moon, you may be able to see more than a dozen shooting stars an hour. Meteors will radiate from their namesake constellation Aquarius, along the low southern horizon. Your eyes are all that you need to catch the shooting stars as they zip across the skies. To maximize your chances of seeing an Aquarid meteor, face Aquarius, which will be rising low in the southeast after midnight. While the constellation itself may be too faint to spot, you’ll know you’re looking in the right direction thanks to the nearby bright star Fomalhaut, which hangs just below Aquarius. — Andrew Fazekas

The secret of the odd ‘aurora’ named Steve

The big takeaway

View Images

Save nature, save yourself: If you can’t summon feelings for other beings, maybe you should think selfishly about nature. That’s the message from oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer Enric Sala. Why? If wildlife habitats are degraded, animals get stressed and shed viruses more rapidly. That issue should be top of mind as we concern ourselves with limiting COVID-19’s reach and stopping the next animal-to-human transmitted pandemic, Sala writes in an essay in the latest National Geographic magazine. Sala’s work has prompted a book and recognition as a finalist for a MacArthur grant. Above, a wave breaks over the reef crest at Kingman Reef, part of the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Subscriber exclusive: When we harm nature, we jeopardize our own health

In a few words

Did a friend forward this newsletter?

On Thursday, Rachael Bale covers the latest in animal news. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Whitney Johnson on photography, Debra Adams Simmons on history, and George Stone on travel.

The last glimpse

Are these springs eternal? For more than 10,000 years, the waters of an oasis in Arizona’s Sonoran desert has nourished humans. The Quitobaquito Springs also has been the only U.S. habitat for two endangered species, the Sonoyta pupfish and Sonoran mud turtle. However, the oasis has been losing water since the 1980s, and the pond now is at its lowest level in a decade, Nat Geo’s Douglas Main reports. The Hia-Ced O’odham, a tribe indigenous to the area, regards the springs as sacred. Groundwater, already hard-hit by agriculture, is being sucked out by contractors making concrete for the nearby U.S.-Mexico border wall. Pictured above at left, a saguaro cactus reflects in the water at Quitobaquito Springs pond in February. Earlier this month (above at right) the pond is much lower, partly from a low flow from the spring.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Jen Tse. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at Thanks for reading, and have a good week ahead.