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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, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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