Nostalgia can help fight loneliness and may also protect mental health, a study finds.
Thinking back to better times, even if they are tinged with some sadness, helps people cope with challenging times.
People who are more resilient naturally use nostalgia to help themselves feel better, the researchers also found.
The study’s authors write:
“Nostalgia, a sentimental longing for the past, is a self-relevant and social emotion: The self almost invariably figures as the protagonist in nostalgic narratives and is almost always surrounded by close others.
Along with close others (family members, friends, partners), the most common objects of nostalgic reverie are momentous events (birthdays, vacations) and settings (sunsets, lakes).”
Nostalgia often includes a mix of positive and negative emotions.
One remembers a far off, warm day surrounded by friends who are now far away or gone.
The feelings of camaraderie are tinged with those of loss and sadness.
However, psychologists still find that nostalgia is, on balance, a positive feeling.
The authors write:
“…recollections of nostalgic events include more frequent expressions of happiness, and induce higher levels of happiness, than of sadness.
Moreover, positive and negative elements are often juxtaposed in the form of redemption, a narrative pattern that progresses from a dismal to a triumphant life scene.”
For the study, people were made to focus on loneliness.
This had the effect of making them more nostalgic — especially among more resilient people.
The authors explain the results:
“Nostalgia magnifies perceptions of social support and, in so doing, thwarts the effect of loneliness.
Nostalgia restores an individual’s social connectedness.[…]
…the association between loneliness and nostalgia is
particularly pronounced among highly resilient individuals.
It is these individuals who, when lonely, report high levels of nostalgia.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Zhou et al., 2008).