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

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.

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 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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