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Neuroscientists Suggest These 5 Easy Ways To Create Genuine Happiness In Your Life

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Neuroscientists Suggest These 5 Easy Ways To Create Genuine Happiness In Your Life

Scientific studies on how to improve mood and increase feelings of happiness have proliferated in recent years, thanks in part to the positive psychology movement. Scientists across the board are now increasingly investigating and shedding light on ongoing insights into mood, personality and cognition.

Neuroscientists, in particular, have taken an interest in understanding what brings about an upward spiral of happiness and well-being. As you probably know, not everyone is born with a sunny disposition, but science says we can all learn how to bring more meaning, satisfaction and happiness into our lives.

Here are some key ways neuroscientists say you can create genuine happiness in your life:

1. Express gratitude for life’s everyday gifts.

Different studies show that taking time to appreciate life’s small gifts affects our brains in a positive way at the biological level. According to UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb Ph.D., in his eye-opening book The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, “The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine.” Dopamine is one of four primary chemicals (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins) in the brain that effect happiness.

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Of course, sometimes life lands a pretty mean punch and you might feel like there’s nothing to be grateful for. It doesn’t matter, though. You don’t have to find anything to be grateful for. It’s the searching that counts.

“It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place. Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence,” Korb explains. “One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful,” he writes.

So express gratitude to people more often, and for life’s little gifts every day.

2. Step up and make more bold decisions.

Don’t shun decision making. When you make decisions, your brain feels in control. It feels at rest. And feeling in control and at rest reduces stress and improves mood. What’s more, brain studies show deciding also boosts pleasure feelings. When you make a decision on a goal and then achieve it, you feel better than when good things just happen by chance.

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For example, if you go to the gym because you feel you have to or you should, well, it’s not really a voluntary decision. Your brain doesn’t get the pleasure boost and the act just feels like a source of stress. However, if you decide to go to the gym and actively choose to exercise, you activate rewarding dopamine activity in the brain and actually enjoy the activity.

So make more decisions in your life and you’ll be happier. You don’t even have to make the 100% right decision. Trying to be perfect overwhelms the brain and makes you feel out of control. Just make a “good enough” decision, says Korb. “…recognizing that good enough is good enough activates more dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which helps you feel more in control…,” he adds.

3. Touch people and hug them more.

The quality of our relationships plays a big role in our brain’s feelings of happiness. “One of the primary ways to release oxytocin (bonding hormone) is through touching,” writes Korb. “Obviously, it’s not always appropriate to touch most people, but small touches like handshakes and pats on the back are usually okay. For people you’re close with, make more of an effort to touch more often,” he says.

Moreover, “A hug, especially a long one, releases a neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin, which reduces the reactivity of the amygdale,” Korb adds. The amygdala is the integrative center in the brain that plays a key role in processing our emotions, emotional behavior and motivation.

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Spend time with friends, have fun and give more hugs. Neuroscience says it’ll boost your happiness. In fact, other studies shows getting five hugs a day for four weeks will increase your happiness big time.

4. Label you’re feelings in a word or two.

“…in one fMRI study, appropriately titled “Putting Feelings into Words” participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant’s amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact,” writes Korb in his book.

Kevin Ochsner, a professor of psychology at Columbia University whose research interests include the psychological and neural processes involved in emotion and person perception, concurs. He says trying to suppress a negative emotion doesn’t work and can backfire on you. You might look fine outwardly, Ochsner says, but inwardly your limbic system is just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused.

So if you feel awful, give that awfulness a name. Describe that emotion. Nervous? Frustrated? Sad? Angry? Maybe you’re just “Bored.” Label your current emotional state in just a word or two and see the emotion’s impact reduce just like that. Lifting your mood can be that simple.

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5. Lead a more generous and compassionate life.

This might sound a bit preachy, but it is actually backed by neuroscience. Being compassionate and giving to others increases your overall well-being and boosts feelings of happiness more than what you’d experience if you focused entirely on yourself.

A brain-imaging study by neuroscientist Jordan Grafman from the National Institutes of Health revealed that the “pleasure centers” in the brain are equally active when we observe someone giving money to charity as when we receive money ourselves. Evidently, humans are hardwired for giving and compassion- contrary to the popular belief that we are essentially selfish!

In another revealing study led by Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia, participants received a sum of money and half of them were instructed to spend the money on others. The other half of participants were told to spend the money on themselves. At the end of the study, participants who spent money on others felt happier and more satisfied than those who spent all the money on themselves.

Giving usually makes people feel good. This is true even for infants. In a report by Lara Aknin, also from the University of British Columbia, it was observed that even in children as young as two, giving treats to others increased those kids’ happiness more than receiving treats themselves.

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So be more compassionate and generous to others. In doing so , you’ll create genuine happiness in your own life.

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

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

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

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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