* This new Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, empathy, compassion, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we review the research so you don’t have to! Subscribe to the Research Digests RSS feed to receive future digests.
The Upside of Caregiving
"Does a Helping Hand Mean a Heavy Heart? Helping Behavior and Well-Being among Spouse Caregivers"
Poulin, Michael J., et. al. Psychology and Aging, Vol 25(1), March 2010, 108–117.
Caring for an ill or elderly loved one can take a serious toll on our health, studies have shown. Yet helping others is generally good for health (and happiness). In a step toward reconciling this contradiction, this study found that certain kinds of caregiving can actually be good for the caregiver. Specifically, when a caregiver was actively caring for a spouse—such as by bathing or feeding them—that caregiver showed a boost in positive emotions. This was especially true among caregivers who felt that their fate was intertwined with their spouse’s. But when caregivers were simply “on call,” passively waiting to help, their experience was decidedly negative. So it seems that more “active” caregiving may actually carry emotional benefits, particularly when we feel interconnected with the person for whom we’re caring. Still, the results suggest that caregivers do suffer more negative emotions in general and should take sufficient breaks to prevent burnout, especially breaks from their “on call” time. —Jason Marsh
How Meditation Helps Us Pull Ourselves Together
"Pulling Yourself Together: Meditation Promotes Congruence between Implicit and Explicit Self-Esteem. "
Koole, Sander L.; Govorun, Olesya; Cheng, Clara Michelle; Gallucci, Marcello. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 45 (6), November 2009, 1220-1226.
People who meditate often say the practice helps them feel more self-possessed. Researchers tested that idea by examining whether people’s unconscious self-esteem (how they think about themselves spontaneously and automatically) and conscious self-esteem, which is deliberate and reflective self-evaluation, become more aligned after meditation. Meditation did cause levels of those two kinds of self-esteem to match up better. In a second study, the researchers found that this might be because meditation encourages people to rely more on their intuitive (unconscious) self-esteem. So, when people say that meditation helps them feel more pulled together, maybe that’s because their identity—their sense of self—is actually less scattered. —Laura Saslow
Compassion vs. Pride
"Compassion, Pride, and Social Intuition of Self-Other Similarity"
Oveis, Christopher; et. al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 98 (4), Apr 2010, 618-630.
When researchers (including Greater Good Science Center Faculty Director Dacher Keltner) measured participants’ levels of compassion and pride, they found that those rated as compassionate felt they had more in common with individuals described as “weak” or “vulnerable” whereas those deemed proud felt they had more in common with individuals described as “strong.” Overall, the study indicates how our emotions can influence how and with whom we establish relationships. —Bernie Wong