Cupids Health

Binge-Watching “Friends?” This Might Be Why

The COVID-19 pandemic has apparently triggered a wave of nostalgia—a sentimental longing for the past. In early April 2020, when many people were in lockdown, Spotify reported a large increase in the streaming of music from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and in the creation of nostalgic playlists. Also, according to a Nielson report given to USA Today, viewings of classic television shows such as Friends surged during 2020.

What’s responsible for this resurgence of nostalgia?

Research suggests that nostalgia can increase happiness and counteract the negative effects of social isolation and loneliness. In a new study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers surveyed thousands of people in the United States, United Kingdom, and China amidst the unprecedented social isolation of COVID-19. They found that lonely participants were more nostalgic than other participants (a finding that’s consistent with experimental research demonstrating that people become more nostalgic in response to loneliness).

After analyzing the survey data, the researchers performed an experiment in which they induced nostalgia. Half of the participants brought to mind a nostalgic event from their past (such as a wedding or graduation) and immersed themselves in the experience, while the other half reflected on an ordinary event from their past. The results show that participants who engaged in nostalgic reflection were significantly happier than the others participants up to two days later.

The researchers concluded that, by raising happiness, nostalgia offers a “homeostatic correction” that counteracts the negative effects of loneliness and prevents a “downward spiral of declining mental health.”

This study adds to the growing body of evidence that nostalgia improves well-being. (Good news for those who like to binge-watch reruns of their favorite sitcom!)

Other work, however, suggests that nostalgia is not beneficial for everyone. Though nostalgia is a largely positive emotion, it is bittersweet. It can evoke sadness as one considers what they miss about the past and what they have lost. Obviously, nostalgia is less likely to improve the well-being of those who focus on the bitterness of the experience.

Additionally, a recent study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology suggests that thinking about the present or future may be more effective at promoting well-being than longing for the past, at least during lockdown. The authors of the study asked people to participate in one of three well-being interventions during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the interventions required participants to focus on the past by reflecting on a nostalgic event. Another intervention required participants to focus on the present by considering what they were grateful for. In the third intervention, participants imagined a more positive future. The results showed that those who thought about the present or the future felt more socially connected than those who engaged in nostalgic reflection.

Spend some time trying out these strategies and discover which ones improve your own happiness and well-being. You might find that getting nostalgic (while watching the entire series of Friends for the fourth time, for example) helps you cope with the challenges of pandemic life.

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