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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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                  Last Updated on January 15, 2021

                  7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

                  7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

                  The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

                  Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

                  Posture

                  First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

                  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
                  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
                  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
                  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

                  All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

                  Facial Expressions

                  Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

                  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
                  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
                  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

                  If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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                  1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

                  A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

                  The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

                  This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

                  2. Relax Your Face

                  New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

                  The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

                  To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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                  3. Improve Your Eye Contact

                  Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

                  The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

                  To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

                  3. Smile More

                  There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

                  Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

                  4. Hand Gestures

                  Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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                  It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

                  5. Enhance Your Handshake

                  In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

                  “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

                  It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

                  6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

                  As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

                  Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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                  Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

                  Final Takeaways

                  Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

                  If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

                  More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

                  Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

                  Reference

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