A piece of chocolate, good music, a glass of wine, we all have our remedies of dealing with a bad mood. A recent study suggests that another way of lifting our spirits is by wishing others well.
"Walking around and offering kindness to others in the world reduces anxiety and increases happiness and feelings of social connection. It's a simple strategy that doesn't take a lot of time that you can incorporate into your daily activities,” said Douglas Gentile, lead researcher of the study.
As part of the study, a team of researchers tested the benefits of three different techniques intended to reduce anxiety and increase happiness or well-being. They did this by having college students walk around a building for 12 minutes and practice one of the following strategies:
Loving-kindness: Looking at the people they see and thinking to themselves, "I wish for this person to be happy." Students were encouraged to really mean it as they were thinking it.
Interconnectedness: Looking at the people they see and think about how they are connected to each other. It was suggested that students think about the hopes and feelings they may share or if they happen to take a similar class.
Downward social comparison: Looking at the people they see and think about how they may be better off than each of the people they encountered.
The study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, also included a control group, in which students were instructed to look at people and focus on what they see on the outside, such as their clothing, the combination of colours, textures as well as makeup and accessories.
All students were surveyed before and after the walk to measure the levels of anxiety, happiness, stress, empathy and connectedness.
The researchers compared each technique with the control group and found those who practiced loving-kindness or wished others well felt happier, more connected, caring and empathetic, as well as less anxious. The interconnectedness group was more empathetic and connected. A downward social comparison showed no benefit and was significantly worse than the loving-kindness technique.
Students who compared themselves to others felt less empathetic, caring and connected than students who extended well wishes to others. "At its core, downward social comparison is a competitive strategy," Sweet said. "That's not to say it can't have some benefit, but competitive mindsets have been linked to stress, anxiety, and depression."
The researchers also examined how different types of people reacted to each technique. They expected people who were naturally mindful might benefit more from the loving-kindness strategy or narcissistic people might have a hard time wishing for others to be happy. They were somewhat surprised by the results.
"This simple practice is valuable regardless of your personality type. Extending loving-kindness to others worked equally well to reduce anxiety, increase happiness, empathy and feelings of social connection," said Lanmiao He, lead author of the study.
Social media is like a playground for comparisons. While the study did not look specifically at social media, Gentile says the results demonstrate that comparison is a risky strategy. "It is almost impossible not to make comparisons on social media. Our study didn't test this, but we often feel envy, jealousy, anger or disappointment in response to what we see on social media, and those emotions disrupt our sense of well-being," said Gentile.
According to the researchers, comparison works well when we are learning something or making a choice, Gentile said. For example, as children, we learn by watching others and comparing their results to ours. However, when it comes to well-being, comparison is not as effective as loving-kindness, which consistently improves happiness.