How to Make Yourself Happy by the Way You Treat Others

Research reveals easy ways to change your behavior and improve your mood.

Posted Dec 24, 2018

Happiness is an elusive concept for many people, particularly over the holidays, when many people feel pressure to feel "joyful," sometimes in the midst of family crisis, loneliness, or stress

Pharmaceuticals and therapy offer relief for millions of people suffering from clinical depression. In addition, however, research indicates additional ways to combat negativity and improve mood. 

Chasing the Right Kind of High

Different individuals pursue the quest for contentment in different ways. From socializing, to sports, to substance abuse, people engage in many different activities designed to create positive emotion. Thankfully, there are prosocial ways to get happy that are safe, sober, and satisfying.

Compassion Breeds Contentment

One way to be happy is to show compassion and kindness to others. Marlyn Sanchez et al. (2018) found that displaying compassion for others and engaging in friendship maintenance behaviors were linked with happiness.[1] The authors focused on friendship, because not everyone is romantically involved, sometimes by choice, and friends provide intimacy and emotional support during emerging adulthood.  

They found that compassion for others was positively associated with happiness in same sex friendships, both for men and women, a relationship that was mediated by friendship maintenance. The study tested friendship maintenance in terms of positivity, supportiveness, openness, and interaction.  

Kindness Breeds Happiness

Another study shows that kindness breeds happiness. Dorota Jasielska (2018) examined the role of kindness on the link between trust and happiness by having participants engage in a trust game, then complete measures to assess happiness, trust, and kindness.[2] She found that while trust is linked with happiness, being kind strengthens this association. She explains that these findings indicate the importance of prosocial activity, noting that without it, people may not achieve happiness through trusting.  

She observes that her results demonstrate that kindness strengthens the bond between trust and happiness by increasing a favorable view of others. She recognizes that prior research indicates that having a positive attitude toward other people underlies both kindness and trust.

Act Out: The Joy of Being an Extravert 

Do you negatively envision what would happen if you behaved more like an extravert? Many people do, which hinders them from stepping out socially. Research, however, indicates that such reluctance may be misplaced. Newsflash for introverts: Acting out will be more enjoyable than you think.  

John M. Zelenski et al. (2013) found that regardless of disposition, people enjoy behaving like extraverts.[3] So the question is: Why don't we behave that way more often? Apparently because many people incorrectly predict they way they will feel if they act like an extravert. 

The researchers examined affective forecasting, studying the way people believed they would feel engaging in certain behavior. They found that compared to extraverts, introverts forecast less positive, pleasant affect and more self-conscious, negative affect when asked to imagine behaving in an extraverted fashion. The concern for shy individuals is that this mindset might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

But not necessarily — if we can change the way we anticipate emotions. Michael Hoerger et al. (2016) note that affecting forecasting drives the way we make decisions.[4] They tested the influence of two personality traits, extraversion and neuroticism, on predicted and actual emotional responses to a spectrum of events and stimuli, including Valentines Day, birthdays, football games, an election, film clips that were happy or sad, and an intrusive interview.  

The results showed that people who were more neurotic and introverted correctly anticipated more unpleasant emotional responses, whereas those who were less neurotic and more extraverted correctly anticipated more positive emotional responses.

This is good news for many individuals who are normally shy and reserved, who would like to be more sociable, but worry about their ability to pull it off. They underestimate their ability to “fake it till they make it,” without considering they might authentically enjoy becoming more sociable.   

Happy and Healthy

We again acknowledge the reality that for some people, medication and therapy are necessary components of a regimen to battle depression. In addition, however, there are a variety of ways to improve mood that are prosocial, wholesome, and healthy. Yes, even over the holidays.

References

[1]Marlyn Sanchez, Andrew Haynes, Jennifer C. Parada, and Meliksah Demir, ”Friendship Maintenance Mediates the Relationship Between Compassion for Others and Happiness,” Current Psychology, January, 2018, 1-12.

[2]Dorota Jasielska, ”The moderating role of kindness on the relation between trust and happiness,” Current Psychology, June, 2018, 1-9. 

[3]John M. Zelenski, Deanna C. Whelan, Logan J. Nealis, Christina M. Besner, Maya S. Santoro, and Jessica E. Wynn, “Personality and Affective Forecasting: Trait Introverts Underpredict the Hedonic Benefits of Acting Extraverted,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 104, no. 6, 2013, 1092–1108.

[4]Michael Hoerger, Ben Chapman, and Paul Duberstein, “Realistic affective forecasting: The role of personality,” Cognition and Emotion 30, no. 7, 2016, 1304-1316.