This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
Humans are apparently hardwired to recall the past in a more positive light than it actually was. This cognitive bias is known as “rosy retrospection”: We forget the stress, anxiety and physical discomfort of the moment itself, and remember only the good parts of the good old days. Think back to primary school and you’ll probably picture long summer holidays and messing about with friends, rather than how scary it was to answer maths questions.
Over the past two years of the pandemic, it feels like the process of rosy retrospection has accelerated. Many of us lived through the spring of 2020 extremely anxiously, mourning the tragedy of all the people who died prematurely of COVID-19 without fully processing the trauma. But I’ve also heard many people reflecting nostalgically on 2020 and 2021 as a time of peace and self-reflection; of less stress, of baking bread, of appreciating self-care and the NHS.
Maybe there’s something to be learned from this bizarre period? I tried to recreate some of the most popular lockdown activities to see if they still have a space in our post-restrictions lives.
There are two specific scents that immediately take me back to the spring of 2020: the tingling sharpness of hand sanitiser and the salty muskiness of my own unwashed body. When I couldn’t go out and see people, it just seemed pointless to waste water on a shower every day.
Is this still fun? It actually doesn't take much effort to bring this habit back, but it does require a lot of self-confidence. At the end of the day, I don't want to smell like my bed when I'm standing next to someone in an elevator.
Taking a walk
I went for a walk around my neighbourhood. I saw a cat lying on the hood of a car with its eyes closed, grass waving in the wind and a blackbird singing. It was all beautiful, but something had changed.
During the lockdown, going on a walk became a fully-fledged activity. The streets were basically empty and the only people you’d meet were also on a stroll. You didn't have to justify why you were wandering around with your unbrushed hair and nothing in your hands but an empty coffee cup.
But in a world where I can go wherever I want, my walk felt uncomfortable. People were biking past me on their way to work or somewhere important and overtaking me all the time. ‘Don't I have better things to do?’ I kept wondering. ‘Do people think I've lost something, or that I'm planning to steal a bicycle from their garden?’
Is this still fun? Yes, but less so.
Stocking up on toilet paper
Remember the signs at your local supermarket telling you to purchase only one pack of toilet paper at a time? That’s the only reason why I’ve always tried to suppress my urge to scavenge. I was afraid that people would see me walking with too much toilet paper and whisper, "Look at how selfish she is".
In the meantime, the supermarkets are completely stocked up again, so I can go home with six packs of toilet paper without any moral discomfort. I actually feel unexpectedly good about it. Pandemic or not, it's just nice to have a massive stash of toilet paper at home.
Is this still fun? Yes.
Yoga at home
While I mainly sat on an ergonomically irresponsible dining room chair during the whole of the lockdown, in that same period, others became flexible and wise thanks to Yoga with Adriene, or similar online yoga instructors. So I gave it a try.
Adriene is very sweet, but her videos feel very long. I have to focus on my breathing and on the weight of my folded legs on the floor, while the awareness that I’ve been spending 45 minutes among the bread crumbs on my kitchen floor slowly spreads into my brain. I could have spent that time having a drink on a terrace somewhere instead.
Is this still fun? If you have time and a nice space, yes.
I tried to install Houseparty on my phone again, as vague memories of bits and pieces of drunken online hangouts slowly resurfaced in my brain. Unfortunately, the app was discontinued in October 2021, so I moved the get-together to Google Meet. But a few minutes after sending the invitations, the cancellations poured in: “Sorry honey, I'm going to a party” or “I have a date”. Most friends didn’t respond at all. Is there a lonelier feeling than staring at your own face on a screen?
Is it still fun? It never was.
Baking banana bread
The first week of the lockdown, everyone seemed to have spontaneously woken up with the idea of baking bread – banana bread, specifically, at least in my social circle. And for good reason – banana bread has it all: It's homey, easy to make and feels somewhat healthy. I made one with almond flour, vanilla sugar and oatmeal. And to finish it off, I put a few whole almonds on top and suddenly felt very self-satisfied.
Is it still fun? Yes, but only if you’re ready to eat a whole banana bread by yourself.
Watching ‘Tiger King"‘
How bored were we in 2020? Let me put it this way: Tiger King has seven episodes of about 45 minutes each. Seven! I really don't know how I managed to watch the escapades of this bleach-haired American for over five hours.
Is it still fun? Definitively not.
Clubhouse was a relatively late lockdown phenomenon: It became popular at a time when we’d already had so many COVID waves, we had resigned to the idea that our life would be mostly online from now on. The app allowed users to join audio chat rooms concerning anything from comedy to conspiracy theories. Back then, you could only join if you had an iPhone and an invitation – that exclusivity made it inaccessible but also gave it a certain je ne sais quoi.
As soon as I installed it on my phone, the app started sending me a billion notifications to join a conversation. I joined a group called “Messy Europeans” and fell into an edgy conversation about whether the US should send conscripts to fight in Ukraine. “Of course they’d need to be trained,” an American man with a deep voice said. “But military equipment is made for use. It's not rocket science. If we had started training two months ago, we would have been ready by now.” Then (radio) silence.
Is it still fun? No, plus Twitter is doing that too now.