Sending Positive Thoughts To Strangers Boosts Happiness, Says Study

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Trending News: Link found between wishing others happiness and improved mood

A new paper appearing in the Journal of Happiness Studies suggests that wishing strangers happiness can make you happy and reduce anxiety.

Guy Counseling spoke to licensed psychotherapist Jennifer Lawal in Chicago about the research to gain her impressions. “When we hold positive thoughts for others, even for people we don’t know, it has a way of lifting our mood while calming our minds. The study makes perfect sense,” Lawal said.

Investigators at Iowa State University asked college students to walk around a building located on campus for 12 minutes while contemplating one of three different things about the strangers they encountered:

1. Loving Kindness Contemplation: This approach involves wishing someone happiness. An eight-word mantra was repeated that literally says, I wish for this person to be happy.

2. Interconnectedness Contemplation: Participants who used this approach thought about possible shared common bonds, hopes, and aspirations they might have with the strangers they encountered.

3. Downward Social Comparison: Using this approach, participants engaged in positive thinking by considering how they might be better off (happier, healthier, etc.) than the folks they encountered.

Just before the students took their walks, researchers recorded their baseline levels of anxiety, happiness, stress, and general feelings of connectedness.

A control group was used as part of the research where participants were told to merely observe the outward appearance of strangers but not meditate or send positive energy.

The results of the study showed that of the three types of contemplations, the students who wished strangers happiness, (“I wish for this person to be happy”) reaped the greatest rewards.

The authors shared the following in the paper’s abstract: “Those who wished others well (loving-kindness) had lower anxiety, greater happiness, greater empathy, and higher feelings of caring and connectedness than those in a control condition.”

What was interesting about this study relates to downward social contemplation (i.e., comparing to others). For these students, the results showed they experienced zero mood-lifting benefits.

In fact, they felt less connected to others and less happy, which may lend credence to the belief that comparing ourselves to others is emotionally and mentally unhealthy.

“Although social comparison theory suggests that downward social comparison should improve mood, this study found that it had no beneficial effects relative to the control condition and was significantly worse than the loving-kindness condition. This brief loving-kindness contemplation worked equally well across several measured individual differences, and is a simple intervention that can be used to reduce anxiety, increase happiness, empathy, and feelings of social connection,” reads the study’s abstract.

At its core, the participants in this study engaged in what’s called the Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM). It literally involves sending warmth, goodwill, and kindness to others using a series of mantras.

Previous research conducted by University of Exeter related to positive thinking, kindness, and self-compassion demonstrated mood lifting benefits and a reduction in anxiety.

So, there you have it, folks. If you are looking to boost your mood, become calmer, and feel more connected to the world, try engaging in positive thinking and tie in a Loving Kindness Meditation.

Do you consciously hold positive thoughts? If so, what benefits have you experienced? 

About John D. Moore 391 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Check out his show --> The Men's Self Help Podcast