Disagreeable People Have Most to Gain by Learning Compassion
Node Smith, ND
Those individuals who are the least likely to be kind, the most disagreeable sort, could benefit the most from learning to be more compassionate, says a recent York University study.1
Over 640 mildly depressed individuals included in the study
Over 640 mildly depressed individuals – average ages were in mid-30’s – were included in the study. One of the things the study did was track these individuals’ performance with online compassion training. The participants were asked to complete one of three online compassion intervention exercises. One of the exercises was a control condition. They were then asked to check in via an online portal every other day for 3 weeks.
2 months later
After 2 months, disagreeable participants who performed acts of kindness within close relationships showed the most drastic changes in depression and increased life satisfaction.
“Everybody needs people”
“Everybody needs people,” says lead author Myriam Mongrain, Professor of Psychology in York’s Faculty of Health. “As a result of their hostility and lack of cooperation, disagreeable types risk getting rejected or ostracized. There is a lot of conflict in their relationships, and they suffer the consequences. We found that providing concrete suggestions to those individuals, giving them ways in which they could express empathic concern in their close relationships was tremendously helpful.”
Lack of empathy
A lack of empathy, which is common in highly disagreeable individuals, creates a lot of strain on close relationships between people.
One possible explanation
One of the possible explanations of these outcomes is that by implementing new behaviors that showed compassion, a feeling of affirmation and inclusion within social groups could have been created. This may have acted as an antidepressant in and of itself in this treatment group.
Findings are particularly noteworthy
Mongrain adds the findings are particularly noteworthy given that the interventions were administered online and only required 10-15 minutes every other day. In other words, it was easy to implement, could be administered worldwide and had profound effects for some individuals.
Loving Kindness Meditation
Another exercise condition used Loving Kindness Meditation, where individuals were prompted to spend up to 10 minutes meditating on supportive and wholesome phrases such as “may you be happy” or “may you be safe.” All participants benefited from this exercise, however the subgroup of disagreeable personality types found this practice the most helpful.
“It’s like at the end of the story of the Grinch”
“It’s like at the end of the story of the Grinch,” says Mongrain. “When he took people in they said his heart grew three sizes bigger, and he also became happy. You can’t be an island unto yourself. Sometimes those who are hostile say they don’t need people, but at the end of the day, it does affect mood. People get very drained from disagreements with their spouse for example, so the toll that it takes is not to be minimized. This kind of intervention could be an antidote for those who are lacking in compassion.”
Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.