A sure-fire antidote to the blues is to focus on others, a new study suggests.
“Walking around and offering kindness to others in the world reduces anxiety and increases happiness and feelings of social connection,” said study author Douglas Gentile, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University.
“It’s a simple strategy that doesn’t take a lot of time that you can incorporate into your daily activities,” he said in a university news release.
For the study, Gentile and colleagues had students walk around a building for 12 minutes and use one of three approaches.
Loving-kindness: This is where you look at others and think, “I wish for this person to be happy.”
Interconnectedness: In this approach, you look at others and consider how they are connected to one another.
Downward social comparison: This is considering how you may be better off than each of the people you encounter.
The study also included a control group of students who were told to look at people and focus on what they see on the outside, such as clothing, makeup and accessories.
Before and after going for their walk, all students were assessed for levels of anxiety, happiness, stress, empathy and connectedness.
Compared to the control group, 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.
Students who compared themselves to others felt less empathetic, caring and connected than those who extended good wishes to others.
There was no benefit with downward social comparison, according to the study published online recently in the Journal of Happiness Studies.
“At its core, downward social comparison is a competitive strategy,” said study co-author Dawn Sweet, an Iowa State senior lecturer in psychology. “That’s not to say it can’t have some benefit, but competitive mindsets have been linked to stress, anxiety and depression.”