When Instagram’s viral #10YearChallenge trend began flooding our feeds this week, we couldn’t turn away. The #10YearChallenge encourages users to post two side-by-side photos — one from 10 years ago, and one from today. Celebrities like Jessica Biel, Reese Witherspoon, LeAnn Rimes, Cynthia Nixon, Alexis Ohanian, Busy Phillips, Viola Davis, Ryan Seacrest, and Candace Bure posted their own comparisons over the weekend.

The obvious draw of the challenge is to marvel at how much (or how little) these celebrities — and all our own friends doing the challenge — have changed physically over the years. But some of the more poignant captions accompanying the before/after snaps got us thinking about the importance of reframing how we think of aging.

“There’s a psychological benefit to nostalgia,” Hal McDonald, Ph.D., a professor of literature and linguistics at Mars Hill University, tells Thrive Global. “When you look back on good times, your memories trigger the reward centers in your brain, causing you to feel pleasure, and even bringing you back to that time.” But posting about our nostalgic photos can also make us feel worse, says McDonald. “There’s something called positivity bias,” he explains, “which makes us remember things in a more positive light, and can make us feel worse about our present lives.”

Like everything we do online, there’s a healthy way to engage in the trend, and an unhealthy way — and McDonald says the line between the two can often come down to your own mindset. If you’re looking to harness nostalgia positively, here are some tips to keep in mind:

For every past memory, think of a future goal

Posting happy photos from 10 years ago can bring us back to a time where we potentially felt more fulfilled, healthier, and even happier, so it’s important to place just as much emphasis on moving forward, too, says McDonald. “Think of life as a journey forward,” McDonald urges. “Remember that the good things in your past can happen again in the future.” In her post, LeAnn Rimes captured this advice perfectly in her #10YearChallenge post: “I Love aging! Wisdom comes with a wrinkle or two… and I’ll take it! The woman I am in 2019 is way more joyful, settled, connected, and peaceful than I was 10 years ago and I’m still expanding into all of these pieces of myself. I am grateful for who I was in 2009, who I am now and every version of me in between. I look forward to creating more smile lines.”

Channel nostalgia to feel healthier

In a study authored by behavioral scientist Clay Routledge, the researchers found that recalling a nostalgic memory from high school helped adults feel more youthful than when they recalled an ordinary high school memory. Study subjects who felt more youthful also felt healthier, more confident about their physical abilities, and more optimistic about their future health. The results prove that a hit of nostalgia can actually make us feel younger, which has benefits for our health. Reese Witherspoon, who seemingly hasn’t aged a day in 10 years, exemplified this feeling in her post, writing: “Time sure does fly when you are having fun!!”

Use the social aspect to reconnect

“Nostalgia can make us feel lonely, but it can also act as a social connector,” McDonald says. Instead of focusing on the friends you’ve lost touch with, use your old memories to reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, he suggests.

Focus on the how far you’ve come

“It’s okay to have fond memories and to reminisce on those memories,” McDonald says, “but realizing what you’ve achieved since then is the critical part.” Cynthia Nixon illustrated this idea brilliantly by referencing her reinvention from “Sex and the City” actress to political contender in her simple but poignant post, which reads: “From Cosmos to Cuomo.”

But, if you want to forego the 10 year challenge and focus on being in the now:

That’s just as good! Demi Lovato has chosen this approach, posting the message: “Sorry, I’d love to post a #10yearchallenge pic, but I’m too busy living in the moment.”

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  • Rebecca Muller Feintuch

    Senior Editor and Community Manager


    Rebecca Muller Feintuch is the Senior Editor and Community Manager at Thrive. Her previous work experience includes roles in editorial and digital journalism. Rebecca is passionate about storytelling, creating meaningful connections, and prioritizing mental health and self-care. She is a graduate of New York University, where she studied Media, Culture and Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. For her undergraduate thesis, she researched the relationship between women and fitness media consumerism.