There seemed to be an integral connection between my mood and the weather this week. I experienced a period of low mood and depression while at the same time feeling the wind chill and dampness in my bones. I already came across research showing a strong overlap between physical pain and social pain, so perhaps there is scientific evidence for my pondering too.
Carried by generosity and compassion
I was consoled to find two of my brothers chatting away in the living room one evening. I decided to plonk myself on the couch beside them and to simply absorb the atmosphere. I didn’t feel like talking and there was no pressure to do so. They welcomed me, accepted my low state and emitted their positivity. I am reminded of the prayer for generosity that includes the line: “To give and not to count the cost”. My brothers shared their views and opinions without expecting me to share mine. I felt comfortable in their presence. They laboured for me – helping to alleviate my emotional pain – and sought no reward, and that strikes me as particularly generous. I eventually said “Goodnight” and went about my bedtime routine.
Another occasion that lifted my heart was with my colleagues during lunch. As we sat eating and drinking tea, a colleague in her late thirties noted that she enjoyed listening to an old-fashioned song (‘Triplets’) on the radio and replayed it on her phone. A colleague in his eighties perked up on hearing this and burst out in song with a few lines from another old-fashioned song – a 1920s classic. Then the younger colleague played ‘Triplets’ for us and we all chuckled. The joy was infectious: my tea seemed to taste better, I appreciated the entertainment and I grew in quiet confidence. My colleagues were compassionate for journeying with me in my low energy and mood, and I bounced into action a little bit more.
Research on kindness and pain
I ponder that my brothers and colleagues became happier through their compassion and generosity. This is in light of research showing that performing kindness activities for seven days (I gather they were consistent with their activities) increases happiness, and a suggestion that more kind acts further increases happiness. Research also suggests that their kindness would have equally positive effects on their happiness whether they were with people with strong ties such as family or weak ties such as strangers (Rowland et al., 2019).
Did you also know that the experience of social pain (the painful feelings associated with social disconnection) and physical pain are connected to the same area of the brain? This overlap can be seen, for example, in an increase in feelings of social disconnection that accompanies physical pain and a decrease in physical pain when there is social support (Eisenberger, 2011). Therefore, it makes sense that my low mood and depression – represented in my brain and body – was eased in the presence of my loving brothers and colleagues. Responding to pain is crucial for our survival.
[The image shows the physical-social pain overlap in the brain from the Eisenberger study].