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5 Ways To Increase Happiness (With Scientific Evidence)

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5 Ways To Increase Happiness (With Scientific Evidence)

Happiness doesn’t just happen. At least, not for most of us anyway. Sure, some people seem to always be on cloud nine, but that’s not the case for many out there. Depression and anxiety are rising rapidly, with those needing and seeking treatment becoming younger and younger. According to statistics gathered by the NIH (National Institutes of Health), antidepressants were the most prescribed drug among 18-44 year olds from 2005-2008. A past president of the American Psychological Association even said this about depression:

“We discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there is now between 10 and 20 times as much of it as there was 50 years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person’s problem. When I first started working in depression 30 years ago … the average age of which the first onset of depression occurred was 29.5 … Now the average age is between 14 and 15.”- Dr. Martin Seligman

With such an epidemic sweeping our society, we need all the happiness in our lives we can get. However, we can’t just sit around all day waiting and hoping to feel good. We have to take action and need to create happiness ourselves.

UCLA psychology researcher, Alex Korb, has found that there are 5 hacks you can start doing right now to increase your happiness.

Stand Tall, Smile Wide and Open Your Eyes

It turns out that your posture and facial expressions have a profound effect on your happiness levels. Slumped over, with a frown on your face is a sure fire recipe for feeling down. When in doubt stand up straight and SMILE – even when you don’t feel like smiling at all. Not only will you trick your brain into thinking all is right with the world, but you’ll also be more attractive – that alone should make you happier. As the old saying goes, “Fake it until you make it.”

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“That’s part of the ‘fake it until you make it’ strategy because when your brain senses, ‘Oh, I’m frowning,’ then it assumes, ‘Oh, I must not be feeling positive emotions.’ Whereas when it notices you flexing those muscles on the side of the mouth it thinks, ‘I must be smiling. Oh, we must be happy.’ When you start to change the emotions that you’re showing on your face, that changes how your brain interprets a lot of ambiguous stimuli” – Alex Korb

Dr. Korb also recommends wearing sunglasses. Not only because they look cool, but because you also wont squint. Squinting forces the corrugator supercilii muscle to fire. When that muscle fires you squint and the brain interprets this as you being worried. So, wear the shades and you’ll help short circuit the squint-worried feedback loop.

Wake up Refreshed

If you’re going to be happy you MUST get a good night’s sleep. However, too many people are not getting nearly enough sleep to actually refresh and rejuvenate the body and the brain.

“Very few Americans regularly obtain the eight or more hours of sleep that almost all adults need each night.” – American Psychological Association

Sleep and depression are closely linked. Which one comes first? Sleep issues or depression? It seems to be a chicken and the egg scenario.

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 “Depression causes sleep problems, but sleep problems are also more likely to lead to depression.” – Alex Korb

You may be wondering what are some things we can do to actually sleep better tonight?

Go to bed at the same time each night, begin a nighttime ritual, sleep in a completely dark room, and turn off the smart phone, tablet, computer, as well as the TV too. The blue light from those devices plays havoc with our natural sleep cycles.

“Participants who read on light-emitting devices took longer to fall asleep, had less REM sleep [the phase when we dream] and had higher alertness before bedtime [than those people who read printed books]. We also found that after an eight-hour sleep episode, those who read on the light-emitting device were sleepier and took longer to wake up.”- Anne-Marie Chang

Focus on Your Long-Term Goals

If (or more likely when) you feel overwhelmed, don’t focus on the here and now. Take a minute and remind yourself of your long-term goals. Reframing the focus from the challenges and struggles of right now to the eventual payoff you’re working towards can reframe the situation in your brain and make you happier. Just the feeling that you’re in control of the situation, and working towards your goals, is all it takes for the body to release dopamine (the feel good neurotransmitter) and begin the shift into a happier state.

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Build Good Habits…

…or you’ll just end up stressed out and less happy because you screwed up, or didn’t move yourself towards your long-term goals. Now you feel bad about your choices and ultimately your self.

Lets face it, we don’t always “do the right thing.” How often do we start a diet, know we should order the salad, and opt for the cheeseburger instead? More than we should – I know. One of the keys to increasing happiness is to build good habits and strengthen the good ones you’ve already got. By doing this, you’re going to make more choices that are in line with your long-term goals and strengthen your sense of belief in the control you have over those outcomes. As we learned earlier, focusing on your long-term goals is one way to quickly increase happiness.

Your brain has three regions that interact to build habits: the Prefrontal Cortex (which is focused on things like long-term goals), the Dorsal Striatum (which tries to get you to repeat the actions you’re used to doing), and the Nucleus Accubens (the trouble maker, that just wants you to do what feels good in the moment).

The key to building good habits, and being happy with your decisions, is to listen to the Prefrontal Cortex most often. This means limiting stress in your life. Doing so keeps the Nucleus Accubens muted and Prefrontal Cortex in control of the decisions your making, the actions you’re taking, and (ultimately) the habits you’re building.

“When the Prefrontal Cortex is taken offline by stress we end up doing things that are immediately pleasurable.” – Alex Korb

The easiest way to keep the Prefrontal Cortex online, and make the best decisions is to take one small step towards your goal – no matter how small.

“Instead of getting overwhelmed, ask yourself, ‘What’s one little thing that I could do now that would move me toward this goal I’m trying to accomplish?’ Taking one small step toward it can make it start to feel more manageable.”- Alex Korb

What Songs Remind You Of Happy Times?

Put them on and crank them up!

Playing music from the happiest times of your life reminds you of those places and how you felt when you experienced them. Music from happy times literally transports your brain to that time and place.

“Let’s say college was the happiest time of your life. If you start listening to the music that you were listening to at that time, it can help you feel more connected to that happier time in your life and makes it more present.” – Alex Korb

Conclusion

The pace of modern lifestyle is frantic. With so many stressors awaiting us, it’s easy to understand why so many are depressed, anxious, stressed out, and just plain blue all of the time. However, happiness doesn’t have to be this elusive thing that is outside your reach. With breakthroughs in neuroscience like those mentioned in this article, we’re learning we can have a profound affect on our happiness. Just by implementing simple strategies (like those highlighted here), we can lead happier and more enjoyable lives.

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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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