Practicing compassion increases happiness and self-esteem

Practicing compassion towards others always seems ideal and makes others happy, but how does this affect us in the short and long-term? How far does that helpful conversation, complimentary cup of coffee, or kind gesture really go? This study looks at the effects of practicing compassion towards others over a 1 week period, where participants signed up online. They were assigned between a “compassionate action” condition in which they were required to interact with someone in a supportive and caring way on a daily basis for this week. The other was a control condition, where participants wrote a detailed description of an early memory, also daily for the week. Self-report measures of depression, happiness, self-esteem, and attachment at the onset of the study were completed by each participant. Well-being comprising of depression, happiness, and self-esteem, was assessed at 4 subsequent time points over a 6 month period. Overall, the study consisted of a 1 week exercise, followed by post-experimental assessment for up to 6 months. The main hypothesis or proposed explanation was that: daily compassionate actions would surpass reminiscent writing in reductions in depression and greater increase in happiness and self-esteem over the 6 month period.

The initial sample consisted of 719 individuals, ranging from 17–72 in age, consisting of 591 females and 118 males, and 10 undetermined, and no other criteria aside from being Canadian and over 18 years of age were employed for this study. Once registered and having completed these measures, participants in the active condition were instructed to act compassionately towards someone for the 5–15 min the following day, by actively helping or interacting with someone in a supportive and considerate manner. Examples of this included “talking to a homeless person”, or “simply being more loving to those around you”, and after doing so were asked to log their experience on the website coordinated for the study. Participants in the control condition were instructed to engage in a daily psychological exercise that comprised of the description of an early memory, then to spend 10 minutes each night writing unlimitedly about it in as much detail as possible. They were asked to describe it in terms of what they were feeling, doing, and who they were with if applicable.

At the end of the 7 day study, both sets of participants were asked to fill out the same self-report measures to assess the outcome. At this point, approximately $30 was given as compensation to about 33.7% of the participants, while the rest were entered into a $1000 draw as monetary incentive and compensation. Follow up emails were sent within the next 6 months, on a per-month basis to continue to complete the measures and to encourage assigned exercise if they found it effective.

Results showed that after the assessment at 6 months, compassionate activities and tasks perpetuated gains in happiness and self-esteem, and marginal decrease in depression. Overall, in this study, it was revealed that participants who practiced compassionate actions reported significantly higher increases in well-being over the 6 months, as measured by levels of happiness and self-esteem, than participants who participated in the early memory writing condition.

Taking psychological well-being as the premise of this study into consideration, there are big implications here for us as individuals but also for those around us. This really can impact mental health not only for ourselves but the power we hold to help others in this context. The findings of this study also align well with previous studies demonstrating a positive influence of practicing compassion-based activities on mental health, further validating the importance of compassion as a practiced human strength.