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In today’s world we all need ways of making ourselves feel better when things and events we have no control over get us down. What’s your trick for feeling better? A bar of chocolate? A cup of tea (or glass of something stronger)? An online spending splurge?

Most of the typical things we do to cheer ourselves up have downsides (extra calories or alcohol units, or considerably less money in your bank account for example). But there is something anyone can do that doesn’t cost anything – whether financially or otherwise. And apparently it can make you feel good about yourself in just 12 minutes.

I’m talking about an experiment carried out by Iowa State University researchers and recently published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, which found having kind thoughts about other people could be the key to reducing anxiety and increasing happiness and wellbeing. Here’s how it went.

College students were given a survey to measure their levels of anxiety, happiness, stress, empathy and connectedness. Then they were asked to walk around a building for 12 minutes, observe the people they come into contact with then think to themselves one of the three following things:

• ‘I wish for this person to be happy’ – and really mean it.

• How they may be connected with them (hopes and feelings they share, for instance).

• How they are better off than them.

Students in a fourth group provided the control for the experiment, and were asked to look at people and simply notice their external appearance – the colour of their clothes, their makeup and things like that.

At the end of the experiment, the researchers gave the students the survey again, and found those who wished others well felt happier, more connected, caring and empathetic compared with the control group – plus they also felt less anxious. The second group felt more empathetic and connected. But the group asked to feel superior to others around them felt less empathetic, caring and connected. And while you may assume that those who are naturally well-meaning might get more out of the loving kindness technique than others with more narcissistic tendencies, the benefits were found to be the same for different personality types.

So next time you’re in need of a mental boost, try having kind thoughts about others – you may be surprised at how good it may make you feel.


Photo by Robert Baker on Unsplash