I'm A Self-Compassion Researcher: This "Bite-Sized Habit" Is Scientifically Shown To Boost Happiness
When it comes to amplifying your joy, sometimes it really is the little things that count. Just ask Kristin Neff, Ph.D., a pioneer in the field of self-compassion and associate professor in human development at the University of Texas at Austin: On the mindbodygreen podcast, she shares a bite-size practice that is scientifically shown to increase happiness and stabilize mood. "A very simple practice is something we call the 'self-compassion break.' It's almost like a little recipe," she says.
Below, she sifts through the ingredients.
A "bite-sized recipe" to increase happiness.
According to Neff, there are three main components of self-compassion: mindfulness, kindness, and a sense of common humanity. And when you incorporate those three components into your everyday life, it can have remarkable effects. Take this 2010 study, for example: When participants wrote a letter to themselves (a paragraph of mindfulness, a paragraph of common humanity, and a paragraph of kind words) once a day for a total of seven days, they had a significant decrease in depression for three months and an increase in happiness for six months1.
"[It's] something as little as writing a letter to yourself," Neff adds. "Self-compassion is really a mindset. And once you cultivate that mindset, things immediately start to shift." In the case of the above research study, those positive shifts may be pretty long term.
How to write a self-compassion letter.
OK, so you're on board with the science. How do you put it into practice? Let's review the three components:
- Mindfulness: "You become aware of the fact that you're struggling. You kind of validate your difficulty in the moment," says Neff. Don't shove down the pain and pretend it's not there—the key to mindfulness is to acknowledge your discomfort. Keep that in mind when penning your self-compassion letter: Take stock of every emotion you're feeling without judgment.
- Common humanity: Careful, now—valuing your pain is helpful, but it can easily tip over into a self-pity mindset. That's why Neff recommends pointing out a sense of common humanity—acknowledging that life is difficult for everyone and no one is perfect. What this does is create a sense of connectedness, and it ultimately differentiates self-compassion from self-pity.
- Kindness: Finally, end the letter with kind words to yourself: "Something that you might say to a good friend you cared about," Neff adds. "Just be tender, warm, and supportive toward [yourself]. It allows you to hold difficult, painful emotions without being overwhelmed in the moment."
According to Neff, a very simple self-compassion letter can seriously support your mental health. Consider it an upgrade to your guided journal.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and more. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.