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10 Science-Backed, Simple Ways to Be Happier Today

10 Science-Backed, Simple Ways to Be Happier Today

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.

                  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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                  Published on April 7, 2021

                  6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

                  6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

                  Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

                  While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

                  1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

                  Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

                  If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

                  In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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                  2. They Make Everything Transactional

                  Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

                  For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

                  Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

                  A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

                  Some statements to be wary of include:

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                  • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
                  • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
                  • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
                  • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

                  3. They Criticize Everything

                  One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

                  However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

                  Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

                  • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
                  • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
                  • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
                  • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

                  4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

                  We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

                  For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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                  This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

                  5. They Socially Isolate You

                  Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

                  Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

                  This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

                  In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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                  6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

                  It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

                  Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

                  Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

                  • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
                  • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
                  • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
                  • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

                  Final Thoughts

                  It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

                  More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

                  Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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