Researchers may have spotted a secret weapon in the fight against loneliness.
Feeling connected to our world could be just a daydream away.
"The eternal quest of the individual human being is to shatter his loneliness."
That's a quote from journalist and activist Norman Cousins. I think he was onto something.
I would argue the most ironic thing about that eternal quest Cousins speaks of is that so many of us are on it. Together. And in the U.S., a growing number seem to be (unfortunately) joining in on the journey.
A 2010 survey found that 35% of American adults over the age of 45 reported being lonely — up from 20% roughly three decades ago, according to Slate. That's not just cause for concern over America's mental health, either — feeling socially isolated increases our chances of dying prematurely, too.
Fortunately, though, we might have uncovered a secret weapon in the fight against loneliness.
And (awesomely enough) it may live within our own imaginations.
A new study by researchers at the University of Sheffield and the University of Sussex in the U.K. found that daydreaming about loved ones may "significantly [increase] feelings of connection, love, and belonging."
In case you're wondering how they got to that conclusion...
- Participants (143 students and staff at a British university) all underwent a "loneliness induction," where they answered several questions to gauge how lonely they were. Regardless of their actual answers, each participant was falsely told their score made them "much more lonely than average."
- Participants were then separated into three groups: social daydreamers, non-social daydreamers, and a control group.
- Both daydreamer groups were instructed to, of course, do just that — daydream. The social daydreamers, however, were asked to imagine a scenario where they were "interacting with another person that [they] have a close, positive, relationship with," while the non-social daydreamers were asked to imagine a scenario that "should just be about [them]." The control group simply did a memory exercise.
- Based on answers provided before the loneliness induction, after the loneliness induction, and after the daydreaming task, researchers concluded that those in the daydreaming groups felt a heightened sense of social connection over the control group — especially the social daydreamers.
Like all studies, we should consider the constraints that prevent it from perfectly reflecting reality. Because many respondents were university students, the average participant age was a relatively young 23 years. The sample group was also disproportionately female, as 87 of the 143 participants were women.
Despite the study's limitations, its findings suggest daydreaming could play a role in bettering our cognitive health.
"These findings demonstrate that through imagination, social daydreaming can replenish connectedness, providing a potential strategy for enhancing socio-emotional well-being."
It's nice to know that even just the thought of my friends and family may help me feel even more a part of this big, bustling world of ours. Sweet (day)dreams!