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10 Science-Backed, Simple Ways to Be Happier Today

10 Science-Backed, Simple Ways to Be Happier Today
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Happiness can’t be bought. Yet if we could, everyone in the world would line up to buy it. While the source of happiness has been studied for decades, it still remains a mystery. No one can share with you how you can personally lead a happy life, because getting to happiness is different for each person.

I’m fascinated and obsessed with delivering happiness to others, and it’s one of my top indicators of success. It’s why I’m constantly researching which habits, actions, and methods can make someone happier.

I’ve done the hard work and curated 10 science-backed, simple ways you can be happier today.

1. Spend time with your loved ones – family and friends.

I’m fascinated with spending as much time with old people (I’m talking 80 to 90 years old), and absorbing the wisdom they’ve gained over the past century of their lives. The one question I always ask is, “what is the one thing you would do differently, or more of, if you had twenty more years to live?” Without a doubt, the most consistent answer I get back is, “spend more time with my family and loved ones.”

Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying. It’s never “make more money”, “work longer hours”, or “travelled more for work.”

According to a study published in the Journal of Socio-Economics, your relationships are worth more than $100,000:

“Using the British Household Panel Survey, I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.”

This goes to show that spending that extra few hours with your friends and family is worth far more than spending it trying to get more work done. Choose how you spend your time wisely, and most importantly who you spend it with.

2. Start a task you’ve been putting off

We all know the consequences of procrastinating, but we still do it anyways. Our brain naturally seeks immediate satisfaction because that’s what releases dopamine (feel-good hormones), which is why we’d rather check our Facebook and Instagram notifications versus going to the gym or learning a new language.

But procrastination can strip our happiness away. A study done at Carleton University showed that:

“the measure of depression were significantly correlated with scores on the measure of procrastination. This positive correlation indicates that the more depressed we are, the more we report procrastination, and vice versa. Self-regulation is a key factor related to both procrastination and depression. Showing up is half the battle.”

Another way to beat procrastination is by using a method called the Zeigarnik Effect. It was established by a Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik (left side), who noticed an odd thing while sitting in a restaurant in Vienna. The waiters seemed only to remember orders which were in the process of being served. When completed, the orders evaporated from their memory.

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zeignarik effect

    It was proven again in 1982 by Kenneth McGraw, where he had participants start to complete a really tricky puzzle; except they were interrupted before any of them could solve it and told the study was over. Despite this nearly 90% carried on working on the puzzle anyway.

    The point here is that if you want to defeat procrastination to be happier, you have to just start. We constantly get students who stress about what dialect they should learn in Spanish, when they have yet to learn the basics.

    Take the small step forward by just starting. Our brains will naturally take care of the rest. If you want to learn more, we’ve written extensively about how to stop procrastinating.

    3. Learn something new

    We’ve established that happiness and fulfillment is all in the mind, not external factors. Education has been widely documented by researchers as the single variable tied most directly to improved health and longevity. And when people are intensely engaged in doing and learning new things, their well-being and happiness increases as well.

    What’s most surprising is that education has shown to predict how long we live. In a paper published earlier this year by the National Bureau of Economic Research, they cited research that 25-year-olds with some college education in 1980 could expect to live another 54.4 years, on average, whereas 25-year-olds with high school degrees had life expectancies of another 51.6 years, or nearly three years less. A similar study in 2000 – only 20 years later – found that the life-expectancy gap between those with some college and high school graduates had increased to seven years.

    Does this mean you have to pay thousands of dollars to head back to school? Absolutely not.

    Jacquelyn James, the director of research at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work, states that “what’s important is that we continuously find things to do that light up our lives.” This is why we’re not surprised that many of our students at Rype are 25 and over, with some of our most successful students being over 50 years old.

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      Once we realize that the brain, like the muscle, needs to exercise and that continuous learning and education is the key to happiness, fulfillment, and longevity, it’s up to us what we want to learn. For some of us, it could be finding new ways to use our current skills, while for others, it could be learning how to speak Spanish.

      4. Meditate

      Most people see meditation as a way to increase your focus and stay calm. But it can also increase your happiness.

      In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.

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      Recently, the Dalai Lama granted permission for his monks, who are master mediators, to have their brains studied at the University of Wisconsin, one of the most high-tech brain labs in the world.

      Richie Davidson, a PhD at the university, and his colleagues, led the study and said they were amazed by what they found in the monks’ brain activity read-outs. During meditation, electroencephalogram patterns increased and remained higher than the initial baseline taken from a non-meditative state.

      calming-mind-brain-waves

        You don’t need to be the Dalai Lama to gain the benefits of meditation. Anyone can do it. Check out this quick video by Gabriel Bernstein on how you can start meditating.

        5. Get moving

        20 minutes of exercise a day keeps the doctor away?

        New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Reynolds wrote in his book, “The first 20 minutes”, that the first 20 minutes of moving around provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk – all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active.

        That’s right. Exercise has been proven to be a cure for nearly everything in life, from depression, to memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and more.

        In another interesting study cited in, The Happiness Advantage, three groups of patients treated their depression with either medication, exercise, or a combination of the two. The results of this study really surprised me. Although all three groups experienced similar improvements in their happiness levels to begin with, the follow up assessments proved to be radically different.

        The groups were then tested six months later to assess their relapse rate. Of those who had taken the medication alone, 38 percent had slipped back into depression. Those in the combination group were doing only slightly better, with a 31 percent relapse rate. The biggest shock, though, came from the exercise group: Their relapse rate was only 9 percent!

        2013-11-11-brain-thumb

          “But I’m too tired to exercise..” I’ve said this countless times myself, after sitting on my chair working for eight hours. But whenever I’ve managed to get to the gym, I came back with more energy than ever.

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          “A lot of times when people are fatigued, the last thing they want to do is exercise,” says researcher Patrick O’Connor, co-director of the University of Georgia exercise psychology laboratory, in Athens, Ga. “But if you’re physically inactive and fatigued, being just a bit more active will help.”

          Because no matter how counterintuitive it may seem, exercise actually increases energy levels and fights fatigue.

          6. Sleep more

          Are you tired reading this? Go to sleep! OK… maybe after you read this. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.

          In NutureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain how sleep affects our positivity:

          “Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories get processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.”

          In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”

          sleep

            But that doesn’t mean you need more of sleep. An analysis of the lifestyles of some 4,000 adults found that the happiest of the lot get an average of 6 hours 15 min of uninterrupted, quality sleep each night. According to another study by Cornell University, happy people tend to sleep better as well.

            It’s a loop: resolve to get more quality sleep, become happier, sleep even better!

            7. Give Back

            If giving to yourself isn’t giving you the happiness you want, try giving to others.

            Shawn Anchor states that:

            “…when researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases, they found that money spent on activities – such as concerts and group dinners out – brought far more pleasure than material purchases like shoes, televisions, or expensive watches. Spending money on other people, called “prosocial spending,” also boosts happiness.”

            There have been some amazing companies that have built giving back into their business model, including Sevenly, Warby Parker, and many others. It’s also why Rype has partnered up with Pencils of Promise to donate a portion of our profits to build schools in developing nations around the world, like Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Laos.

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            Pencils of Promise Guatemala May 2011

              8. Travel

              There’s something about leaving our home town, and taking a plane across the world to meet new friends, discover new cultures, and escape our comfort zones.

              We start to see a side of the world that we never knew about – the beautiul and the ugly – and we can start off fresh with a blank state. If you don’t have the luxury of traveling at a moment’s notice, this study shows us that just the act of planning for a vacation can boost our happiness.

              In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks. After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.

              9. Put down your phone

              In the social media world we live in today, it’s easy to compare ourselves to the lives that other people are “supposedly” displaying on Instagram or Facebook. A study by Kent State University surveyed more than 500 students and found that frequent cellphone use was associated with lower grades, higher anxiety, and reduced happiness.

              “It’s likely that people spending more time on devices have less frequent contact with live social networks, and may be more vulnerable to social comparison that leaves them with a sense of emptiness,” says Ramani Durvasula, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at California State University in Los Angeles. “And anxiety may be due to the ‘I don’t want to miss out on anything’ effect – seeing everyone else’s social calendar makes it difficult to stay present in their own lives.”

              This is also called the “FOMO” effect (Fear of Missing Out). A simple way to prevent this is to just put down your smartphone once in awhile. You can use extensions like Facebook Newsfeed Eradicators to prevent yourself from being distracted (and find some interesting quotations once in awhile).

              Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 8.57.46 PM

                10. Find your flow

                Have you ever had time fly by because you were being so immersed? Scientists call this “flow.” What is unique about flow versus ordinary happiness is that flow is an active experience that you create, not one that was created by outside influences.

                How do you know what will achieve flow? You must fulfill three requirements. It must be your own choice, it has to be something you find pleasant, and it has to be difficult enough to require skill but not so challenging that you can’t be successful in the task.

                lessons

                  Flow is what helps you find fulfillment in your life. So it’s probably a good time for you to start learning a new language, taking a cooking class, or maybe even finding a new career path to explore.

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                  What have you tried on this list that brought happiness? Is there anything we missed?

                  More by this author

                  Sean Kim

                  Sean is the founder and CEO of Rype, a language learning app. He's an entrepreneur and blogger.

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                  Last Updated on July 20, 2021

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

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