Nostalgia is an effective means by which to feel connected to others (Wildschut, Sedikides, Routledge, Arndt & Cordaro, 2010). It plays an essential role in achieving socioemotional selectivity goals (Routledge et al., 2011), such as sustaining social connectedness to others and keeping our focus on emotional goals. Socioemotional selectivity goals can be fulfilled using nostalgia, as it protects individuals and reduces the negative impact of limited time perspective on wellbeing (Demiray & Bluck, 2014).
It also helps individuals reach stability or experience growth in psychological wellbeing, as is frequently seen throughout human lifespan (Ryff & Keyes, 1995).
The pattern may be strengthened even further, as nostalgia aids self-continuity. Self-continuity is the linking of a person’s past and present, as well as transition periods of life (Sedikides et al., 2015). These often occur in the latter parts of adulthood, such as retirement. The fact that nostalgia restores self- continuity is supported by evidence that nostalgia proneness levels are significantly higher during the younger and older sections of adulthood which are often when transition periods occur (Hepper et al 2012) such as deteriorations in health (Brandtst?dter & Greve, 1994) or independent living.
It is important to remember that at these time periods, a number of changes occur, meaning we cannot say that increases in wellbeing are solely due to nostalgia. Further research studying a few individuals would provide more in depth understanding of factors influencing both nostalgia proneness and wellbeing during transition periods.
Both longitudinal and cross-sectional research show that older adults have smaller social networks (Lee & Markides, 1990; Palmore, 1981).
More emotionally meaningful, as well as close knit groups are sought (Carstensen el al., 1997). Older adults interact with fewer people and primarily those they know well (Field & Minkler, 1988). In both old age and at the end of time periods, people’s closer social groups consist primarily of old friends and members of their family. It is not just age that is related to compositions of our social groups. The fact that both longitudinal and cross-sectional research are consistent improves triangulation and reliability of results. Furthermore, replication in additional cultures would prove useful to improve generalisability of results rather than just presuming that what has been found in one culture is universal.
When time is perceived to be limited, such as when political change occurred in Hong Kong and endings were expected, both younger and older adults wished to be surrounded by people who were familiar (Fung & Carstensen, in press). Socioemotional selectivity signifies an adaptive process (Lang & Carstensen, 1994), individuals have a role to play in ensuring they are surrounded by familiar others, this is important in terms of having emotional control too.
When time is perceived as limitless, novel experiences with others are more important. It is advantageous to have interactions with a variety of people because it allows us to be more prepared for unknown future experiences (Carstensen, Isaacowitz & Charles, 1999). When time is perceived to be limited, we prefer to be with those who are familiar as they know us best and can better influence our emotional states and choices (Carstensen, Isaacowitz & Charles, 1999). Close relationships however may not be positive, meaning we could still make bad decisions. However, they are still usually where greatest emotional support and meaning are found (Carstensen, Isaacowitz & Charles, 1999).
Nostalgia may be especially significant when coming to the end of university because it helps to bring people even closer in their small meaningful groups. Finishing university also leads to a transition period which could be stressful. It has been argued that the negative consequences of stress can be mitigated by social support from others (Cohen & Wills, 1985). Nostalgia is helpful in many situations but especially in times of stress or transition (Sedikides et al., 2015).
Nostalgia is a social concept or construct, usually involving memories of social experiences and important relationships that help us feel closer to others (Hepper et al., 2012). If we feel close to others, they can support us when we feel stressed. However surely if close others are stressed during these transition periods too, they may not be able to provide beneficial support. It would be interesting to look at the consequences for university students of being surrounded by people of different levels of stress or of different levels of nostalgia proneness, for example during exam season, and see their effect on students’ wellbeing.
Reminiscing can also help us to feel closer to those around us as we remember the good times we have shared. People are “active agents” in controlling their social worlds in order to align them with their social goals (Carstensen, Isaacowitz & Charles, 1999). They perfect their social networks to satisfy their emotional needs (Carstensen, Isaacowitz & Charles, 1999). By shaping our social world, via our group choices and using nostalgia, we can minimise negative emotional responses and maximise positive ones, (Carstensen, Isaacowitz & Charles, 1999) again potentially reducing stress in a process known “antecedent regulation of emotion” (Gross, in press).
Knowledge about reminiscing and nostalgia may be useful in terms of therapeutic applications. It has been used as part of some treatments for depression, although with mixed success (Bohlmeijer, Smit, & Cuipers, 2003). So, if this area is explored further it could be used more effectively and potentially for other mental health disorders. Nostalgia is highly linked to reminiscence and could play an important role too.
It is important also to realise that although most people think nostalgia is a positive thing (Hepper et al., 2012), it can also have a detrimental impact on wellbeing. Just because it helps bring back good memories, it is possible that someone is not able to see their old friends for whatever reason, so reminiscing on the past could make them feel quite low and perhaps lonely or deserted. Moreover, for those with habitual negative thinking patterns, short-term effects of nostalgia may not be as positive as is hoped (Verplanken, 2012). These individuals may not experience the perceived benefits of nostalgia during periods of limited time.
Another key component of wellbeing is social support, which has been defined as ‘coping assistance’ (Thoits, 1986). This is extremely important, for example in patients with terminal illnesses. Nostalgia can help individuals feel closer to those providing the ‘coping assistance’ (Hepper et al., 2012). Nostalgia and fond memories of people around us too can cause positive affect, which is key when time is perceived as limited.
There are also many other factors that influence decisions, behaviour and affect during perceived limited time, not just nostalgia. It is interesting to look at different factors and how they interact. Other factors may include severity of illness, length of perceived limited time, positive relationships with others, self- acceptance, purpose in life (Hepper et al., 2019), attachment avoidance or style (Wildschut, Sedikides, Routledge, Arndt & Cordaro, 2010) and narcissism (Hart et al., 2011). More practical factors such as physical movement, mental capability and cost of care are also influential. In terms of coming to the end of a time period such as university factors that may impact wellbeing are: distance of friends and likelihood of friendship maintenance, as well as job availability and plans for when they finish may be important.
There are also individual differences that may influence nostalgia and wellbeing when time is perceived to be limited. These could include brain mechanisms, people with habitual negative thinking (Verplanken, 2012) and those more able to regulate their emotions. Further research could assess other aspects of wellbeing during periods of limited time and explore the relationships between factors that affect both wellbeing and nostalgia in greater detail.
It is known that gender may also influence wellbeing when time is perceived to be limited. In general, women seem to have more positive relationships than men (Ryff & Keyes, 1995). This could be important in terms of social support during limited time. It could also mean perceiving limited time has a more negative impact on females, as they are more likely to focus on relationships than males. This is an area that could be explored.
In terms of gender effects on nostalgia proneness, evidence is quite mixed. There is some evidence that women are more nostalgic (Best & Nelson, 1985), but some evidence that men are instead (Kusumi, Matsuda & Sugimori, 2010). However, the majority of studies seem to find no significant difference (Batcho, 1995; Routledge et al., 2011). Replication of studies would be useful in trying to determine if there really are gender differences and perhaps increased sample sizes.