Is there an easy way to increase happiness, meaning in life and social support?

Researchers are seeing success with a type of meditation focused on expanding one’s positive feelings toward others:

B. L. Fredrickson’s (1998, 2001) broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions asserts that people’s daily experiences of positive emotions compound over time to build a variety of consequential personal resources. The authors tested this build hypothesis in a field experiment with working adults (n = 139), half of whom were randomly-assigned to begin a practice of loving-kindness meditation. Results showed that this meditation practice produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions, which, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms). In turn, these increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms. Discussion centers on how positive emotions are the mechanism of change for the type of mind-training practice studied here and how loving-kindness meditation is an intervention strategy that produces positive emotions in a way that outpaces the hedonic treadmill effect.

Source: “Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources” from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 95, No. 5, 1045–1062

So how does it work?

Most empirical work on meditation has centered on mindfulness meditation (e.g., Davidson et al., 2003; Teasdale et al., 2000). Because we were particularly interested in evoking positive emotions, we employed a related mind-training practice, loving-kindness meditation (LKM). LKM is a technique used to increase feelings of warmth and caring for self and others (Salzberg, 1995). Like other meditation practices, LKM involves quiet contemplation in a seated posture, often with eyes closed and an initial focus on the breath. Yet whereas mindfulness meditation involves training one’s attention toward the present moment in an open-minded (nonjudgmental) way, LKM involves directing one’s emotions toward warm and tender feelings in an open-hearted way. Individuals are first asked to focus on their heart region and contemplate a person for whom they already feel warm and tender feelings (e.g., their child, a close loved one). They are then asked to extend these warm feelings first to themselves and then to an ever-widening circle of others. Thus, LKM may well cultivate broadened attention in addition to positive emotions. According to the broaden-and-build theory, these two experiential consequences go hand in hand.

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