Having a really bad day? Researchers found that offering kindness to others might be all it takes to pull yourself out of a bad mood.

By Zee Krstic
March 28, 2019
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You probably have a few things that you always do to cheer yourself up when you're in a bad mood. Maybe you reach for an indulgent snack, spend an hour on the couch with a good book, or take some time to talk to a good friend or a loved one. If these methods don't work for you, there's a new one to try: Scientists say there's an even better way to life your spirits, and that their method will help you notice a difference in your attitude in as little as 12 minutes. According to new research out of Iowa State University, which was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies earlier this month, the best way to save yourself from a sour mood is actually to think about others. Simply spending a few minutes focusing on wishing others well could actually revitalize your own mood.

"Walking around and offering kindness to others in the world reduces anxiety and increases happiness and feelings of social connection," Douglas Gentile, a psychology professor, said in a press release. "It's a simple strategy that doesn't take a lot of time that you can incorporate into your daily activities."

Two researchers tested the benefits of common techniques used to reduce anxiety and increase happiness. They asked college students at Iowa State to walk around a building for 12 minutes and practice one of the three: Interconnectedness, or actively observing people around them and thinking about how they share a connection; downward social comparison, which required them to think about how they may be doing better than those they encountered on their walks; and loving kindness, the practice of actively wishing people in line of sight to "be happy." Students were told by the researchers to focus on being sincere while doing so. Another group of students, who were used as a control, were told to focus only on the surface level of physical interaction, taking note of people's clothing or makeup and accessories. After all groups completed their trials, researchers completed in-depth surveys to measure how much anxiety, happiness, stress, and connectedness each student felt.

Those practicing loving kindness were found to have experienced vast improvements in each area, whereas the interconnectedness group experienced marginal improvements in empathy overall. Those who simply compared themselves to other people while in their presence didn't have more empathy or cared more as those who wished each other well. If you're thinking that this practice could only work for someone who is more inclined to be mindful, researchers found that even "narcissistic" people were able to glean some benefit from actively wishing other people well.

"This simple practice is valuable regardless of your personality type," Lanmiao He, one of the study's researchers, said. "Extending loving-kindness to others worked equally well to reduce anxiety, increase happiness, empathy, and feelings of social connection."

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