We all have our ways of dealing with stress and lifting our spirits when we feel down.
Some people meet up with friends for a drink, others go for a walk in nature and some like traveling.
But it turns out that doing things that contribute to our personal happiness is not the only way to feel better. According to Douglas Gentile, professor of psychology:
“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. You can incorporate it into your daily activities,” he says.
Gentile’s words refer to the results of recent research. It was conducted by him, Dawn Sweet, senior lecturer in psychology, and Lanmiao He, a psychology graduate student, at Iowa State University. The study is published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.
They examined three types of strategies one could use to deal with stress and boost happiness.
The study involved college students who had to make a 12-minute walk around a building and try one of the strategies described below:
- Interconnectedness: The participants had to look at other people and try to guess if they had any connection with each other. The students thought about what hopes and feelings these people may share. Or if they could be taking a similar class for instance.
- Downward social comparison. The participants had to look at the people around them and think in what way they could be better off than them.
- Loving-kindness. The students had to look at the people around them while sincerely thinking to themselves, “I wish for this person to be happy.”
The research included a control group as well.
It consisted of individuals who had to watch the people around them and observe and describe their appearance. The members of the group noticed the other people’s clothing, their clothes’ colors and textures. They also had to say whether the others around them were wearing makeup and accessories.
The participants were examined before and after the experiment. The purpose was to measure their levels of stress, well-being, compassion, and connectedness and to compare each strategy with them.
At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that the students who used the interconnectedness strategy were more compassionate and connected.
The other participants who wished well to the passers-by seemed much happier. They also had higher levels of connectedness and were more compassionate to the people around them. And their stress levels were lower too.
In contrast to these positive results, the students who had to make downward social comparison with others were less compassionate and caring and less connected. They actually had no benefit from the experiment. Sadly, their results were worse than the ones of the students who used the loving-kindness strategy.
Sweet explained the following:
“At its core, downward social comparison is a competitive strategy. That’s not to say it can’t have some benefit, but competitive mindsets have been linked to stress, anxiety, and depression.”
Gentile also reminded that social media makes it inevitable to avoid comparing with others.
“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,” he said.
According to Gentile, the comparison strategy is good if people want to learn something or if they have to choose between two things. Yet this approach is not the best thing to do to lift our spirits.
The downward spiral strategy was inefficient and didn’t lead to an improvement in the participants’ general happiness.
While conversely, the loving-kindness one had an extremely positive effect on people with different personalities.
At first, the scientists thought that the mindful participants in the study would benefit more from the loving-kindness strategy whereas the narcissists would not be happy to wish others well. But the final results showed they were wrong:
“This simple practice is valuable regardless of your personality type,” Lanmiao explained. “Extending loving-kindness to others worked equally well to reduce anxiety, increase happiness, empathy, and feelings of social connection.”
Given the study’s results, the love and kindness strategy is one of the most efficient approaches for lifting someone’s spirits, concluded the scientists. So you could try using it the next time you feel down.