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7 Scientifically-Proven Productive Things You Can Do to Boost Happiness

7 Scientifically-Proven Productive Things You Can Do to Boost Happiness
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If you are more productive, can this really increase your happiness? The answer is a resounding yes from scientific studies. If you are more productive at work, and in social and personal relationships, the rewards multiply over and over. Read on for seven things you can do to boost your happiness.

1. You see stress as a challenge.

Instead of trying to reduce your to do list in hectic times and stressful periods, try to see it as a challenge. This is the advice that Shawn Archor gives in his book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. He quotes research which shows that when people changed their mindset with regards to stress, they had 23% fewer stress-related symptoms such as backache, exhaustion and headaches. The next time you are going crazy about organizing a dinner party or a holiday, just reflect on the opportunities to connect with people and places, rather than thinking of all the negative factors which are elbowing their way into your mindset. Meeting people again will strengthen and deepen your relationships.

2. You practise gratitude.

Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California has done a lot of research on how to be more productive and happier. One way is to practise gratitude, especially when on holiday. You should make a list of the positive, wonderful things that are surrounding you, such as loved ones and beautiful places. You have extra time on your hands so send an email expressing your appreciation or perform a simple act of kindness. This regular brain training helps to keep you optimistic in the months ahead.

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3. You learn how to be self-compassionate.

“When bad things happen to a friend, you wouldn’t yell at him.” – Prof. Mike Leary, Duke University

We are often so hard on ourselves and yet we tend to be more compassionate with others than with ourselves! We set incredibly high standards for our work and relationships, and then start beating ourselves up when we face problems and setbacks. Studies done by Professor Meredith Terry at Duke University on those over 65 showed that when they were more tolerant about their own loss of memory and arthritic pains, they were better able to manage the aging process.

4. You invest in friendships.

Real friends are like pure gold. They require time and effort, though. We all know that good friends are a bulwark when we suffer loss, sorrow and loneliness. They are also great company when we have to celebrate. Developing a prime quality friendship is neither easy nor automatic. But it is well worth it. Experts have even put a price tag on quality friendship and at the moment each one is worth $133,000, in terms of life satisfaction and happiness. Imagine that sum as a pay rise, yet it is friendship which is worth so much more. Friends will always be there for you. Looking at your bank balance when lonely will not make you any happier.

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5. You move your body.

Have you ever felt a high after a workout or brisk walk? There is a biological reason for this but you do not need to know all the chemical details. You just have to know that exercise releases endorphins in the brain. This is like a natural dose of morphine. They reduce pain, lift your mood, have an energizing effect on your mind and body and also increase self confidence. Check out this great infographic to see how much exercise you should be getting for the right dose of happiness. Lots of wonderful insights from research, led by Dr. Daniel Landers at Arizona State University, will also convince you.

6. You know the four-to-one ratio.

Yes, that is the ratio of positive emotions versus negative ones. You need at least four of those positives to overcome just one negative thought. The half full glass is not enough, it should be at least three quarters full. The work by Elaine Fox, a neuroscientist at Oxford University in this regard is fascinating and they are outlined in her book, Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain.

You have to be productive in getting these to dominate your mind. If you think negatively all the time, the neural pathways become embedded in your brain. Worries, anxiety and depression can take hold. Fox calls these the ‘fear brain’. It is time to forge new neural pathways so that the ‘pleasure brain’ can dominate by looking at the positive elements and helping them to win the match and, later on, the championship. The secret is being able to experience a wide range of emotions without letting either pleasure of fear dominate too much. Fox found that people who were depressed had barely one positive emotion for each negative one.

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7. You know when and how to say no.

When we are bombarded with information, we have to learn how to say ‘no’ and concentrate on what is going to be our top priority. Did you know that we are now bombarded with 60% more information across our phones, computers and tablets than we had in 1980? We have a menu of TV, games, emails, images, text messages, statistics, and music to keep us distracted from the real tasks at hand. In the 1980s, we spent up to 7 hours getting through all that stuff. In 2008, that figure jumped to almost 12 hours, excluding working hours, according to researchers at the UC San Diego.

You see the problem. The wrong things are coming into focus and that is a barrier to being more productive and happier at work. Once you master the art of putting the non-urgent tasks down the list, you can get much more done. The secret is, of course, in your ability to say ‘no’ when these tasks come in the form of requests for help, meetings, and trivial distractions. The satisfaction of staying on track and developing your essential skills is worth its weight in gold.

Let us know in the comments how you manage to stay productive and happy in your work and relationships.

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Featured photo credit: Girl Writing in her Moleskine Diary/Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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