What Does Celeb Gossip, Reruns, and Mac & Cheese Have In Common? Belonging, of Course
I’ve written before about how belonging is the solution to the loneliness epidemic and the four paths to finding belonging (Clarke, et al) but there are also non-traditional paths that can fulfill our needs for connectedness. These non-traditional paths offer belonging via “symbolic social bonds” but don’t require venturing outside the comfort of your home.
Humans require connection and inclusion with others similar to how they require physical safety, food, and shelter. (Pravati, et al)
Journalists and psychologists alike have written about the phenomenon of rewatching television shows for comfort (I rewatched Peaky Blinders, for example!). Researchers have hypothesized that we prefer familiar shows as a form of self-soothing when we feel depleted as the reruns offer predictability and no surprises. New research now suggests that TV shows are one of a number of the less conventional ways we find our sense of belonging.
Social psychologists define symbolic social bonds as those that are not outwardly social but still drive a sense of connection. There are three subtypes of symbolic social bonds:
The social worlds of fictional characters (e.g.: television or book characters)
Nonhuman objects that remind us of others (e.g.: comfort foods, photographs, letters)
One-sided relationships with real people (e.g.: celebrities and their fans)
It may be cognitively dissonant to think of solo activities like watching reruns, eating mac and cheese, or reading TMZ as satiating socialization desires, but research shows that these relationships feel “real” to the person experiencing them. As a result, the behaviors reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation and increase feelings of connectedness.
These alternative ways of finding belonging are part of what researchers call "the sociometer," a personal gas tank of sorts that includes some of the ways people find their sense of belonging.
For the next time you’re feeling socially depleted or anti-social but still craving belonging, you now have a cheat code for unlocking belonging solo. Turn on the TV, dive into a book, or read some gossip about your favorite celebrity.