There’s nothing a glass of wine, a third coffee, or a square (ahem, block) of chocolate can’t fix when you’re tired, moody and have no energy to deal with, well, life and people.
But while these all taste great at the time, you can basically say sayonara to your healthy diet if you find yourself in the dumps a couple times a week.
However, a new study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies has proven a way to boost your mood that doesn’t cost a single calorie or cent. The research team suggested that rather focusing on ways to make ourselves feel better, we should focus on wishing others well.
“Walking around and offering kindness to others in the world reduces anxiety and increases happiness and feelings of social connection,” said Douglas Gentile, a psychology professor and one of the study’s lead authors. “It’s a simple strategy that doesn’t take a lot of time that you can incorporate into your daily activities.”
To conduct the study, a team of researchers from Iowa State University asked college students to walk around a building for 12 minutes and practice one of the following strategies:
1. Loving-kindness: students were encouraged to genuinely wish good hopes upon people they passed.
2. Interconnectedness: looking at people they see and thinking about how they are connected to each other.
3. Downward social comparison: Comparing themselves to others and thinking about how they may be better off than each of the people they encountered.
All students were surveyed before and after the walk to measure anxiety, happiness, stress, empathy and connectedness.
The study also included a control group in which students were asked to look at people and focus on their physical appearance.
The results found that those who practiced loving-kindness or wished others well felt happier, less anxious, more connected, and caring and empathetic within the 12 minute session. Moreover, the interconnectedness group all reported to be more empathetic and connected.
On the other hand, those who practiced downward social comparison showed no benefit, and instead felt less empathetic, caring and connected. Their mood was also significantly worse than those who practiced the loving-kindness technique. Previous studies have shown downward social comparison to be a buffering effect when feeling bad about ourselves, however this study found the opposite.
“At its core, downward social comparison is a competitive strategy,” explained one of the study’s researchers and senior lecturer in psychology, Dawn Sweet. “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 found the loving-kindness technique worked regardless of an individual’s personality (i.e. naturally mindful compared to narcissistic people).
“This simple practice is valuable regardless of your personality type,” said graduate student in psychology and researcher, Lanmiao He. “Extending loving-kindness to others worked equally well to reduce anxiety, increase happiness, empathy and feelings of social connection.”