A new study suggests that everyday experiences of empathy contribute to our well-being and promote kind behavior toward others, reports Jill Suttie of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Greg Depow at the University of Toronto and his colleagues conducted a study on people’s experience with empathy in their everyday lives to find out how it affected their actions and well-being. Their findings shed some interesting light on how small moments of ordinary empathy benefit us all.

The study recruited 246 participants, representative in many ways of the diverse U.S. population. Then, seven times a day for a week, participants were randomly prompted via cell phone to report on their current happiness level, sense of purpose and overall well-being.

At each prompt, participants also noted if they’d experienced an empathy opportunity (someone expressing emotion in their presence); received or offered empathy; or performed a kind, helpful act for someone during the prior 15 minutes. If they had, they were asked to say how close they were to the other person involved; whether the empathy target’s emotion was positive or negative; and whether they resonated with the person’s feelings, took their perspective or felt compassion for them — all separate elements of empathy that are sometimes studied in isolation. They also noted any difficulties they had empathizing and how confident they were that they accurately understood the person’s feelings.

Analyses of the responses showed that people tended to encounter empathy opportunities frequently and that they empathized often in everyday life. On average, a person perceived about nine opportunities to empathize and six opportunities to receive empathy over 12 hours, and they empathized or received empathy about 88% of the time. They also tended to experience all of the elements of empathy simultaneously and to empathize more often with positive rather than negative emotions.

In Depow’s study, people practiced more kindness toward others at times when they experienced more empathy, no matter whether positive or negative emotions were shared. Again, he found this to be particularly noteworthy because so much research on empathy and compassion focuses on witnessing others in need.

In general, Depow’s findings confirmed that different demographic groups had different experiences of everyday empathy. Women still tended to empathize more than men, and being religious bumped up one’s empathy levels at least a little.

So how can we bring more empathy (and more well-being) into our everyday lives?

Depow says it might benefit people to learn to notice empathy opportunities more often, savor others’ happiness more, or reframe our emotional reaction to suffering as an opportunity to help (rather than focusing on our own personal distress).

If training like that were possible, empathy could become an even more potent happiness practice — and stave off loneliness, too.