Whether it’s a favourite snack, a phone call to the friend who says all the right things, or a one-on-one session with a punching bag, we all have that one thing we can count on to pick us up when we’re down. But have you ever thought to take a walk and while you’re at it, direct positivity at others? Well, you probably should, as a study conducted by Iowa State University (ISU) researchers on campus shows that directing “loving kindness” at others while taking a stroll could act as a quick and effective mood-boost.
Douglas Gentile (psychology professor), Dawn Sweet (senior lecturer in psychology) and Lanmiao He (postgraduate psychology student) tested out three strategies on university students to find out which ones fared best in reducing anxiety and increasing happiness and wellbeing. The students were asked to walk around the university building and observe others while practicing one of these strategies:
– Loving kindness: This involved looking at others and wishing them happiness, and genuinely trying to mean it.
– Interconnectedness: Students practicing this technique walked around campus while looking at others and thinking about the things they have in common. This could be anything from the emotions they might share, to the classes they take together.
– Downward comparison: This technique involved students’ trying to figure out how they were better off than the people they were observing.
This study also involved a control group which consisted of students who were asked to only focus on others’ appearances and direct their attention to things like clothing, makeup and accessories.
The effects of all three techniques were compared with the control and practicing loving kindness was found to be the best one at increasing happiness.
Students in the loving kindness group not only reported feeling happier but were also more caring and empathetic. They were even less anxious. Those in the interconnectedness group were also found to be more empathetic and caring.
But, those who practiced downward social comparison did not benefit.
Sweet says that an explanation of this could be that downward comparison is a “competitive” emotion. She says that although competitiveness has some benefits, it’s also linked to stress, depression and anxiety.
The researchers also tested whether the personality types of the participants affected how they reacted to each strategy. They initially thought that people who were already quite mindful would find it easier to practice loving kindness strategies, or those who were more narcissistic would find it harder to wish others well. But this study showed that showing loving kindness worked equally well for everyone. He considers the practice “valuable” for all personality types.
So next time you’re feeling blue and have 12-ish minutes to spare, why not walk around your neighbourhood or office and wish anyone you come across some love and positivity, too? There’s never too much of that to go around.
Written by: Tesneem Ayoub
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