Oh, nostalgia, that longing for a past never to return — if it even happened as we remember. But the memory feels good. In fact, the tenderness often felt when recalling meaningful life events can offer a lonely person consolation or comfort. That’s the finding of new research from University of Southampton social psychologist, Tim Wildschut.
“Loneliness reduces happiness,” Wildschut reports, “but also triggers nostalgia, and nostalgia increases happiness.” The study, published in Social, Psychological and Personality Science, consisted of surveying over 3,700 participants in three countries (United States, United Kingdom, and China) during the beginning of the pandemic. Respondents were asked about their loneliness, happiness, and nostalgia.
Unsurprisingly, there was an inverse relationship between levels of loneliness and happiness; those who reported increased loneliness reported decreased happiness. Nostalgia appeared to play a key role in distinguishing intensities of unhappiness; those who did not entertain important memories were found to be more unhappy than those who did.
In another study conducted during April 2020 with participants in the United States, researchers used the pandemic lockdown as a substitute for loneliness. They asked some of the 200+ online subjects to describe an event about which they felt nostalgic. The remainder — the control group — was asked to write about an ordinary event. The researchers found statistical significance between the nostalgia group’s happiness scores and the control group’s; the nostalgia group was happier. These and similar findings about nostalgia suggest possible directions for therapy.
A major consideration for such directions, however, is how people view relationships, which are often tied to significant memories. For those who find relationships comforting, nostalgia can boost one’s intention to connect with others. The opposite is the case for those who do not find comfort in relationships. Wildschut is, nevertheless, optimistic about developing nostalgia therapy for the right candidates.