Happiness: it’s something we all want, and in one way or another, most of us spend our lives attempting to pursue it. Multiple industries are devoted to our quest for increased joy. Now, a team of researchers at Iowa State University have carefully studied several mental strategies designed to make us happier. Their goal is to give us the low-down on the best way to lift a bad mood.
The contenders? Loving-kindness, interconnectedness, and downward social comparison.
Loving-kindness involves sincerely wishing for other people to be happy. Interconnectedness means meditating on the ties that we all share—for example, universal hopes and dreams. Downward social comparison occurs when you focus on how you are better off than others around you.
To test the effectiveness of these various thought patterns, the team—led by Professor Douglas Gentile, Senior Lecturer Dawn Sweet, and grad student Lanmiao He—had college students walk around the building for 12 minutes. Some of the students were assigned one of the three strategies to apply to the other people they saw, while a control group was instead told to focus just on the appearance of any passers-by. The students also filled out a survey before and after, measuring their anxiety, happiness, stress, empathy, and connectedness.
Previous studies had found that downward social comparison was a reliable method for upping your own happiness, but now the happiness waters have been muddied a bit, because this new study seems to demonstrate that comparing oneself to others doesn’t benefit one’s mood, when evaluated next to the control group.
Instead, the clear winner was loving-kindness, which gave students a boost in joy, caring, and connectedness, and a decrease in anxiety. The interconnectedness group did also experience an increase in empathy and connectedness, but loving-kindness saw the biggest rise in happiness. This held true regardless of the personalities of the students involved.
So the next time you’re feeling blue, give yourself 12 minutes to walk around the block and extend well-wishes to everyone you see. It’ll do you good.