Wishing happiness for others, and really meaning it, makes people feel happier themselves, new research finds.
Instead of focusing inwards, sending loving-kindness outwards can work magic.
People who did this for just 12 minutes felt happier than those who concentrated on how they were better off than others.
It also reduced anxiety and boosted empathy.
Professor Douglas Gentile, the study’s first author, said:
“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 that you can incorporate into your daily activities.”
For the study, young people were split into three different groups and each tried a different strategy for feeling happier:
- Loving-kindness: looking at others and sincerely wishing them happiness.
- Interconnectedness: considering people’s connections to each other.
- Comparing oneself favourably to others: thinking about how one is better off than other people.
All were compared to a control group.
The results showed that people who practiced loving-kindness felt happier themselves, were less anxious and more caring and empathetic.
In contrast, those who compared themselves to others felt less caring, connected and empathetic.
Dr Dawn Sweet, study co-author, explained:
“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.”
Loving-kindness is effective, whatever your personality type, Lanmiao He, study co-author, said:
“This simple practice is valuable regardless of your personality type.
Extending loving-kindness to others worked equally well to reduce anxiety, increase happiness, empathy and feelings of social connection.”
Social media tends to encourage social comparisons, said Professor Gentile:
“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.”
The study was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies (Gentile et al., 2019).