a man carrying a suitcase while longing to go back to a different time

A Psychologist Offers 2 Strategies To Overcome Nostalgia-Induced Loneliness

Nostalgia can make you feel trapped in the present. Here's how to harness your nostalgic feelings in a healthier way.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | January 18, 2024

Though we understand that nostalgia—a sentimental longing for the past—is a powerful emotional state, we often fall short in harnessing it effectively to transform our lives. A 2014 study published in Self and Identity found that experiencing nostalgia not only evokes positive emotions but also fosters personal growth. This growth is largely driven by an increase in positive self-regard, one of the key psychological resources bolstered by nostalgic feelings.

Interestingly, the study also found that nostalgia strengthened feelings of belongingness and provided a sense of meaning. These are both crucial elements in countering feelings of loneliness. Here are two tips on how to make the most of your nostalgic reveries to counter feelings of loneliness and disconnection. 

1. Understand ‘Rosy Retrospection’ To Help You Connect Better With The People Around You 

A prescient quote from the hit show The Office goes: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in ‘the good old days’ before you’ve actually left them.”

The crucial insight here is that people often do not recognize the value of experiences while living through them, but tend to view them more positively in retrospect. And this isn’t just anecdotal. 

A classic study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology explored how people anticipate, experience and remember significant life events. Participants were divided into groups, each assigned to different events like vacations or trips. They were asked to anticipate these events, record their actual experiences during them and then recall these experiences after some time had passed. 

The study found that when participants recalled these events later, their memories were predominantly positive, more so than the actual experience. Negative aspects seemed to fade, leaving a “rosier” memory of the event.

Once you embrace the fact that you will long for your past, no matter how lonely it may seem in the present, you are more likely to create experiences and memories that are joyful. This can involve taking steps like striking up a conversation with your barista, joining a volunteer group or even something as simple as going for a stroll in a park—you never know who you may run into while you’re there.

Rosy retrospection empowers us to invest more in our daily interactions, not necessarily with grand expectations, but with an appreciation for their future value in our memories. The trick is recognizing the potential in ordinary moments to become extraordinary, nostalgic memories. 

2. Being ‘Mindfully Nostalgic’ Can Provide A Sense Of Meaning In A Lonely Life 

A recent study published in Emotion sheds light on how being nostalgic can be particularly beneficial for individuals grappling with loneliness. The study found that for those who often feel a lack of direction or meaning in life—a common issue among the lonely—engaging in nostalgia can have a significant positive impact.

This likely has to do with a recalibration of your sense of self in relation to the people around you. Think of it this way: Lonely individuals often tend to feel like side characters in their own lives, often being overwhelmed by their isolation. Experiencing nostalgia (either spontaneous or self-induced) can help re-center their narrative, provided they contextualize the emotions and memories that are associated with the experience.

If you’d like to contextualize and make the most of your nostalgia to regain a sense of meaning in your life, you can give the Hero’s Journey Method a try. This approach involves effective storytelling, where you take charge of your life’s narrative through seven key steps:

  1. Self-discovery. Reflect on past experiences that shaped you. Nostalgic moments can reveal personal strengths and values.
  2. Control over reactions. Understand how you’ve responded to past changes and use these insights to manage current circumstances.
  3. Goal setting. Identify past ambitions and achievements through nostalgic reflection, helping to clarify current and future goals.
  4. Choosing relationships. Recall past relationships that were meaningful. This can guide current choices in friendships and confidants.
  5. Responding to challenges. Use memories of past challenges and successes to inform your approach to current obstacles.
  6. Personal growth evaluation. Look back to see how far you’ve come, using nostalgic memories as milestones.
  7. Assisting others. Utilize your experiences and learnings to help others on their paths, enriching your own sense of purpose and connection.

By mindfully engaging with nostalgia, you can weave a narrative that highlights your journey, underlines your growth and reinforces your place within a larger community. This approach can be a powerful tool in combating loneliness and finding meaning.


Our memories are not just a source of comfort but also a bridge to a more fulfilling present. Nostalgia can be a powerful ally in easing loneliness, especially if you are able to look beyond the passive experience of it. Reflecting on positive past experiences can reframe how you view your current life situation. This, in tandem with the fact that we generally remember the past as rosier than it actually was, can help us appreciate the people in our lives more and foster better connections.

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