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Why We’re Still Unhappy When We Do Work Hard And Play Hard

Why We’re Still Unhappy When We Do Work Hard And Play Hard

Why aren’t we happy, even when we have a million social activities, a great job, and lots of nice stuff?

We work hard all week and look forward to the weekend, but then work just as hard at having fun (in order to forget the stress of our week and get as much as possible out of our free time). Often we’re more tired at the end of the weekend than we are at the end of the work week!

What’s the deal with our furiously paced and hectic lives?

As a generation, we’ve got more freedoms and opportunity, more equality, and more options for everything than ever before (ordering anything online and getting it tomorrow, getting food delivered at home at midnight, etc.)

Yet, we are also more on display than ever before and more competitive (by necessity) than ever before (with everything in the world being find-able on the internet, we are competing with everyone in the world; and anything we can find out or learn to do is something everyone else can find out or learn to do just as easily!)

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Thanks to social media and entertainment trends like reality television, we live in a world where all of us can see what almost everyone else is doing (or pretending to do) at every moment. We are constantly bombarded by images of successful or beautiful or happy people sharing only the best images or best moments (often artificially created for appearance sake) from their lives and keeping their embarrassing, difficult moments and failures to themselves.

We respond in kind, sharing only our most exciting and fabulous looking photos and making our everyday lives seem like something out of a magazine or movie. After all, if everyone else is having such beautiful, amazing lives and are so successful and happy, we can’t seem as if we aren’t, right?

We begin to care more about how we look doing things, or how people will perceive the things we do and the choices we make, than we do anything for its own sake. We forget to think about what we truly want and what will make us happy and instead talk ourselves out of (and into) the things that are more likely to be applauded and accepted by others. We work hard to get people to respect us and give us compliments or tell us how great we are or how jealous they are of our career/vacation/gorgeous boyfriend; but in fact, those compliments feel meaningless when we get them because they aren’t compliments on who we are. They’re compliments on how we’ve crafted our life to appear or how well we’ve sold ourselves in public.

This obsession with appearances and keeping up with everyone else around us leads us to constant dissatisfaction. We watch image after image and read post after post that put us into jealousy and panic mode all at once. So and so bought a new house? Got a promotion? Got engaged AND lost 15 pounds? Not fair, I want all of these things and don’t have them yet! I’ve got to get going…!

We look at these images and absorb these messages and think: Our hair isn’t shiny enough. Our thighs and stomach aren’t in good enough shape to be caught on camera in a swimsuit. Our clothes aren’t cute or hip enough. Our car is too old; we’ve got to get the newest model like everyone else in our position. We need a manicure/spray tan/new outfit/botox for those forehead wrinkles… before we get caught in anymore event photos with that cute young co-worker. We never ever say to ourselves ‘I’m good enough just the way I am, even if I don’t have exactly what this or that friend has. I’m happy with what I have and what I look like and where I’m at.’

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We are never fulfilled, because we are constantly making an effort to do more and be better. We forget to appreciate the moment and to love ourselves.

Not loving ourselves leads to our not feeling good enough for others to love us, which in turn leads to dating the wrong people and feeling insecure and unsure about whether they like us or care about us or love us enough. We refuse to admit that it’s our own job to fix the emptiness inside of us and that fixing ourselves first is the only way to be ready to fully love someone else.

It’s time to stop the insanity. Get back to the basics. Use common sense. Look inward and focus on things that truly matter: friendships, family, health, our passions,… love.

Imagine if, instead of spending an hour or two each day reading about everyone else’s fabulous lives and feeling inadequate, or participating in threads about unimportant things, we instead spent those hours learning a language, writing in a journal, reading a book, getting outdoors for some physical activity, or meditating?

What if we wanted less, and assessed what it is that truly makes us happy (hint: it’s probably not getting a new car because everyone else has one)? What if we stopped there and asked ourselves the following questions:

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  • Do we have a good relationship with our family?
  • Do we have a friend or partner who we love? Do we spend enough time with them and let them know how much they mean to us?
  • Do we feel good physically? If not, how can we fix that? More exercise? Better eating habits?
  • Are we drinking too much? Sleeping too little? Working too many hours?

Can we force ourselves to stop, be grateful, and not to desire so much stuff that we don’t need? To not let vanity decide for us what will make us happy?

We absolutely can.

Let go of the meaningless. Keep the meaningful closer. Make efforts not to be swayed or distracted by jealousy or feelings of inadequacy, but instead look inward, practice mindfulness and self-love, and simplify your life. Focus on relationships and health and happiness instead of material possessions, professional or social ‘status,’ and income.

Take a few minutes and think about what makes you the happiest. Who do you feel your best around? What in your life is making you the most unhappy?

Now focus on these things and make a plan. Do the things that make you happy and see the people that make you happy more often. Get rid of (or make a plan to get rid of over time if it’s something that is difficult) what makes you unhappy. Forget about whether changing jobs/careers/boyfriends will make you look less successful or popular.

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Start today.

Note from author: I quit a 14 year career just under two years ago in order to travel and to train myself in new skills that would allow me to get away from a career that was affecting my health, relationships, and happiness and to move towards a new way of life.

I haven’t bought new clothes in a year. I haven’t eaten at fancy restaurants. I haven’t been able to afford manicures or pedicures or spa treatments. I can’t brag about my promotion or how much money I’m making or the fabulous luxury trips I’m taking.

But I’m the happiest I’ve been in over 10 years.

Featured photo credit: youth.sg via youth.sg

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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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