Small Gestures, Big Impact: Feeling Loved Increases Well-Being, Study Finds

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New research reveals that people who experience simple moments of love and appreciation on a daily basis from others feel greater purpose and optimism in their lives.


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — No subject has been the basis of more works of art, music, and writing than love. Many storytellers tend to go for a big dramatic moment, such as Jack holding Rose on the railing of the Titanic. But it turns out that much smaller, everyday gestures of love may have a much larger impact on our psyches and overall feelings of well-being. That’s the finding from an extensive new study conducted at Penn State University. Researchers say that brief, seemingly mundane moments of love can make all the difference when it comes to feelings of self-worth and positive well-being.

According to the study’s results, people who experience frequent “felt love,” or feelings of genuine resonance and connection with others, report significantly higher levels of well-being, optimism, and self-purpose. Furthermore, study participants with high felt love scores also displayed elevated extraversion personality scores, while those with particularly low felt loves score were more likely to be especially neurotic.

To be clear, felt love doesn’t have to be romantic at all. A genuine caring moment between platonic friends, or even mere acquaintances, would de defined as a moment of felt love per the study’s outline. The research team are hopeful that their findings will one day lead to specialized wellness interventions that can help people improve their well-being and mental state.

“We took a very broad approach when we looked at love,” says Zita Oravecz, assistant professor of human development and family studies, in a release. “Everyday felt love is conceptually much broader than romantic love. It’s those micro-moments in your life when you experience resonance with someone. For example, if you’re talking to a neighbor and they express concern for your well-being, then you might resonate with that and experience it as a feeling of love, and that might improve your well-being.”

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Two groups of participants were gathered for the study; one group of 52 people of varying ages, and 160 undergraduate students. Across both, each person was sent six random prompts everyday for a period of four weeks. Each prompt asked participants to rate their current feelings of felt love and well-being.

Interestingly, as the study progressed and participants were continually reminded to be more aware of small, positive gestures from others, they steadily reported more felt love experiences. This, according to the study’s authors, indicates that simply trying to be more positive and actively attempting to see the good in other people’s interactions towards us can improve well-being.

“It’s something that we’ve seen in the literature on mindfulness, when people are reminded to focus attention on positive things, their overall awareness of those positive things begins to rise,” Oravecz explains. “Similarly, just by paying attention to those everyday moments of felt love, we may also increase our awareness of the overall positive aspects of love in our daily lives. This effect replicates in both studies, implying that raising awareness of felt love in day-to-day life may itself be an intervention that raises levels of felt love over a longer period of time.”

However, while the study did establish a correlation between felt love and well-being, the research team say additional work is needed before causation can be determined. If a causal relationship were to be established, Oravecz and her team have a number of ideas for possible interventions that could help those feeling a bit low. For example, messages could be sent out on a daily basis to a person’s phone, reminding them to take note of all the felt love present in their life.

The study is published in the scientific journal Personality and Individual Differences.

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