People often have a favorite remedy that they rely on to raise their spirits when depressed or in a bad mood. A new study shows a simple strategy, which does not take up too much time or effort, to improve one’s mood.
Researchers at Iowa State University in the US found that by simply walking around and offering kindness to others in the world reduces anxiety and increases happiness and feelings of social connection.
The study team tested benefits of three different techniques intended to reduce anxiety and increase happiness or well-being. For their study, the team engaged college students to 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.
Inter-connectedness: Looking at the people they see and thinking about how they are connected to each other. It was suggested that students think about the hopes and feelings they may share or that they might take a similar class.
Downward social comparison: Looking at the people they see and thinking about how they may be better off than each of the people they encountered.
The study 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 colors, textures as well as makeup and accessories. All students were surveyed before and after the walk to measure 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. 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. The new study found that downward social comparison, which has been shown to have a buffering effect when we are feeling bad about ourselves, had no such effect.
The study found that though downward social comparison could have some benefits, at its core such comparisons are a competitive strategy. 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, which showed that the strategy was valuable regardless of personality types.
While the study did not look specifically at social media, the researchers pointed out that it is almost impossible not to make comparisons on social media. 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. Spending too much time on the comparison playground of social media is a risky venture, they said.