For those who have done mental health or dual diagnosis training with me will know, I show some very simple ways to lift depression. This is based on the the activation of the Septal Nuclei region of the brain. This area is rich in oxytocin receptors, the bonding hormone between mother and baby. It is the parental drive to give to our children and generates the most intense feelings of pleasure that the human bran can create. In human beings this is an open system, where people and pets can also trigger its activation when we give. Encouraging depressed people to give to those they care for can lift mood, and it will also sedate fear centers in the brain that create anxiety. This might time, thanks, a small gesture of kindness or even just gratitude. If you want a happy life, then be kind is the message of this. So I was interested in this simple experiment that showed how you can lift mood in 12 minutes by this smple process.
"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."
Gentile, Dawn Sweet, senior lecturer in psychology; and Lanmiao He, graduate student in psychology, 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 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, 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 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. 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."
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."
Social media is like a playground for comparisons: he makes more money than I; she has a nicer car. 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," Gentile said. "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."
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.
Materials provided by Iowa State University.
Douglas A. Gentile, Dawn M. Sweet, Lanmiao He. Caring for Others Cares for the Self: An Experimental Test of Brief Downward Social Comparison, Loving-Kindness, and Interconnectedness Contemplations. Journal of Happiness Studies, 2019 DOI: 10.1007/s10902-019-00100-2