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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

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 January 15, 2019

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Step right up, don’t be shy!

Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

Culturally Conditioned

We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

1. Broadens Your Network

After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

2. Improves Your Communication Skills

I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

3. Continually Learning

So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

4. Increases Self Confidence

Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

How to Talk to Strangers

Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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1. Say Hello

Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

2. Ask About Them

Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

3. Just Do It

One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

4. Don’t Take It Personal

One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

6. Detach

A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

7. Share Your Stories

Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

8. Give a Compliment

Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

9. Relax Your Body Language

If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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