Last updated on Jul 7th, 2020 at 02:32 pm

Instead of comfort eating or drinking, here’s a free and proven way to boost your mood in minutes…

While a few glasses of wine or a slab of chocolate may lift your spirits temporarily, it’s not good for you and you’re bound to feel guilty about overindulging.

In contrast, rather than focusing on ways to make ourselves feel better, a team of Iowa State University researchers suggests 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, professor of psychology. “It’s a simple strategy that doesn’t take a lot of time that you can incorporate into your daily activities.”

Testing mood-boosting strategies

Gentile, Dawn Sweet, senior lecturer in psychology; and Lanmiao He, a graduate student in psychology, tested the benefits of three different techniques intended to reduce anxiety and increase happiness or wellbeing.

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They did this by having college students walk around a building for 12 minutes and practise one of the following strategies:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 that they might take a similar class.
  3. 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 also included a control group of students were instructed to look at people and focus on what they see on the outside – such as their clothing, make-up and accessories.

All students were surveyed before and after the walk to measure anxiety, happiness, stress, empathy and connectedness.

How neighbourhood libraries and parks make us happier

Love and kindness wins

The researchers found that those who practised loving-kindness or wished others well felt happier, more connected, caring, empathetic and less anxious than the other groups. 

The interconnectedness group was more empathetic and connected.

The 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. Previous studies have shown downward social comparison has a buffering effect when we are feeling bad about ourselves. ISU researchers found the opposite.

“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.”

It works for narcissists too

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,” Lanmiao He said. “Extending loving-kindness to others worked equally well to reduce anxiety, increase happiness, empathy and feelings of social connection.”

Source: Iowa State University

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