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Your brain loves patterns and the predictable.

There’s nothing like a brand-new experience. Be it a first visit to a beautiful place, a first taste of a delectable food, a first meeting with a fascinating person, or the first time you experience a great book, film, or piece of music, first times are exciting times.

That said, it can be every bit as much of a pleasure to return your favorite film, show, book, or song time after time as it was to experience them for the first time.

In fact, your enjoyment may grow with each watching, read, or listen. Sure, the anticipation and excitement may be diminished, but something else grows every time we return to familiar media: comfort. 

And this comfort comes in two forms, as we’ll see: one is more about physiology, while the other is entirely about your emotions.

The Human Brain on Patterns

ancient patterns on the ground
(Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash)

Humans love identifying patterns, and according to Psychology Today, we have since our ancient ancestors were first evolving into modern form. Our innate love for patterns is why we have prints on clothes, on wallpaper, on upholstery, and more. It’s why we like our songs to have a beat and a repeating melody. It’s why we can find architecture moving. And it’s why we seek to find shapes in the clouds, why we take comfort in the changing of the seasons, why we love puzzles and rhymes, and on it goes.

When we identify a pattern, we feel more comfortable with the world, in short. And when we make a prediction about a pattern that proves to be correct, we take pleasure in that. That pleasure is on full display when we enjoy our favorite books, movies, or music over and over.

The Comfort of the Predictable

young man listens to music with headphones
(Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash)

How many times have you found yourself mouthing the words of a favorite movie’s dialogue as the actors on the screen are speaking? Or singing along to the chorus of a beloved song, hardly even conscious that you know all the words? How many times have you re-read a favorite novel, despite the fact that you know that Anna is still going to fall under that train, Hal Incandenza is still on a downward spiral, or that the old man isn’t making it home with that fish?

Far from ruining the experience, knowing exactly what is coming in a favorite show, movie, book, or piece of music is what makes our enjoyment grow. We can anticipate a coming joke, action scene, or moment of romance there on the screen even before it happens and then enjoy it when it does.

We may pick up a few new nuances with each re-read of a book, but it’s knowing just where the story is going that draws us back to the pages again and again.

And with music, that form of media most often enjoyed repetitively, the better we get to know the beat, the melody, the lyrics, and the chorus, the more our comfort with and enjoyment of the song grows. You’ve demonstrated this every time you start drumming on the steering wheel just before the beat changes or when you suck in a big breath just before the chorus hits.

The Comfort of Re-Watching Is Real

netflix screen users in a family
(Photo by Malte Helmhold on Unsplash)

When it comes to a favorite movie or show, the objective logic would be that each time we re-watch we would enjoy the program less as now we know everything that will happen. But in practice, we know that to be the opposite of the case. And according to MSN, that’s not just a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of science.

When we watch a show or movie already well known to us, it can create a sense of comfort and control that may be lacking in our larger lives. We willingly choose to plunge ourselves into a familiar story line with known characters and a predictable outcome. It is a therapeutic experience that can allay anxiety and bring some much-needed tranquility and even happiness to our days – this helps explain why re-watching shows and movies hit an all-time high during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Of course, a glut of time stuck at home also contributed to that.)

Re-watching shows or movies can also bring a sense of comfort and contentment because it makes us feel more connected to our own past. If you loved, say, watching “Friends” on TV in high school or college, you will enjoy it as an adult not just because of the jokes and storylines, but because watching the show calls up fond memories of times gone by. 

We can also use a given show or film as a way to essentially curate our own emotions, provided it is a program with which we are already well-acquainted. Feeling down one day? A favorite comedy may elevate your mood, or a chosen sad movie may offer a sense of commiseration. Want some motivation to go for a run, tackle a DIY home project, or hit the books? An action-packed episode of “Breaking Bad” may get you up off the couch. Feeling worked up or angry? Then maybe you need a slow-paced, funny, and calming Wes Anderson movie.

The Joy of Sharing Your Favorite Movie, Book, or Song With Others

young woman looks at phone
(Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash)

One of the best things about being quite well-acquainted with a given song, show, or book is that we develop a feeling of agency over the material that allows us to meaningfully share it with others. How many times have you thought: “Oh, I know just who would love this book!” or said to a friend: “Wait until you hear the chorus of this song, you’ll love it!”

Humans are naturally communal creatures who love to share and be connected to one another. When we can do this via a piece of media that can be enjoyed at the same time (granted, that’s harder to do with a book, but you can talk for hours about the book once the other party has read it) our own enjoyment of the show, film, or song only grows thanks to it being a shared experience.

In other words, re-watching a favorite movie is good, but re-watching with a friend, partner, or with the family is great.

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