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Thinking Well of Others Enhances Pleasure, Quells Pain

A new study shows that believing people are kind can make your life sweeter in more ways than one.

January 24th, 2012

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Thinking Well of Others Enhances Pleasure, Quells Pain

We’re always looking to enhance life’s pleasures and cut down on the pain. That elusive path to a sweeter life? It may already exist in your mind.

A new study found that people felt less pain and more pleasure when they believed people had good intentions. Thinking someone was kind even made candy taste better (yeah, it’s possible!). Here’s how this three-part study can start making your life that much sweeter.

Finding 1: Kindness Decreases Pain

The Particulars: Three groups of subjects received electric shocks (ouch) from a partner. One group was led to believe that the partner accidentally shocked them, while another group thought the partner did it on purpose. The final group was told that the partner was shocking them to help them win money.

Though all shocks were the same strength, the participants felt less pain if they believed their partner had good intentions!

RESEARCH: Helping Others Makes You Happier

What That Means for You: While it’s hard to picture when a friend would need to hurt you to help you, this scenario is common in doctor’s offices and at hospitals. When a nurse with a warm smile tells you your shot will be practically painless, it is! So next time you’re faced with a vaccine or blood test and the nurse isn’t particularly warm and friendly, remind yourself that she is there to heal you and has good intentions despite her demeanor!

Finding 2: Kindness Enhances Pleasure

The Particulars: The subjects in this experiment had it a lot better—they all received an electrical massage. One group had the switch flipped on and off by a “caring partner,” while a computer controlled the other group’s massage.

What That Means for You: The people in the caring partner group said their massage was more pleasurable (even though the partner’s hands never touched the person!). And although the computer-regulated rubdown may be more efficient, just knowing that someone else wants to make you feel good, makes you feel that much better!

Next time your partner wants to help out, ask for a neck rub. Even if it’s not as good as a professional massage, it will probably feel like it.

QUIZ: How's Your Self-Esteem?

Finding 3: Kindness Makes Things More Delicious!

The Particulars: Your fave candy already tastes great, but when a friend who’s thinking of you sends it? It tastes even sweeter. In the final experiment (also more pleasant than the electric shock experiment), subjects received candy, but the two groups had different notes attached.

The kindness group’s note read: “I picked this just for you. Hope it makes you happy.” While the other group received the indifferent (harsh) version: “Whatever. I just don’t care. I just picked it randomly.”

People said that the candy tasted better and sweeter when it had a kind note attached to it.

What That Means for You: The thought really does count. If your culinary skills aren’t up to par, your friends will still think your dinner tastes delicious when they see the effort you put into your party.

Same goes for a friend’s birthday gift. Just spending some time on a sweet gesture like baking a cake will make it truly sweet!

Day to day, the people you come across usually don’t communicate their intentions to you. Here are some pointers on how to see the good intentions in people:

1. Breeze past the negative.  “By default, people tend to see malice in other people’s actions when there is none,” Happiness Expert Matthew D. Della Porta, M.A. says. “If you’re not taking things personally, you can start to see things more optimistically. This is a good first step toward making that happen.”

COLUMN: Learn How to Not Take It Personally

2. Open your eyes to kindness around you. Start noticing the kindness of strangers. Share the random acts of kindness you’ve experienced and seen, here in our YouTalk community.

3. Try compassion meditation. “Loving-kindness meditation cultivates compassion and love for other people. It’s designed so that you can even extend compassion toward people you don’t like very much,” Della Porta says. There’s solid research behind it’s ability to increase your empathy, and lowers stress to boot.

RESEARCH: Compassion Meditation Makes You Kinder, Learn How

 

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