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4 Shortcuts to Happiness That Actually Work

4 Shortcuts to Happiness That Actually Work

Traditionally, most strategies for becoming happier that we learn about in life take a serious amount of time to implement.

It takes years of education and then hard work in order to achieve career success. It takes years of meeting people and interacting with them in order to find someone special, and to boot, not only do these strategies take a long time, but they don’t always make us that much happier (or that added happiness doesn’t last very long).

However, there are also what we might call shortcuts to happiness: actions that, if taken, can create an immediate and noticeable boost in our mood. They make us happier instantly. The problem is that many of the popular shortcuts either don’t really work that well (for example, checking your Facebook account non-stop), or they work in the short run, but create more harm than good in the long run (for example, consuming lots of alcohol).

The good news is that there are reliable shortcuts to happiness that are well-validated by psychological research and empirical data. These methods actually work and they work well for just about anybody. I’d like to share with you 4 of the top shortcuts to happiness, which you can start using as soon as you’ve finished reading this.

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1. Practicing Gratitude

You will always find both happy and unhappy people living in very similar conditions. For instance, there are rich people who are happy, but there are also rich people who are unhappy. The same goes for poor people.

The main differentiating factor doesn’t seem to be the external appearance of their life, but rather their level of gratitude. Happy people are grateful for whatever they have in life, big or small, and they know to appreciate life as it is. This is what makes them feel good on a regular basis. By deliberately practicing gratitude, you can enjoy the same positive emotions and be happy with your life. This doesn’t mean that you’ll stop wanting to improve your life—it’s perfectly possible to enjoy life as it is while seeking to improve it at the same time.

How do you practice gratitude? Several times each day, look at your life and try to identify the positive things about it. As you do so, let yourself become fully aware that you might not have had those things in the first place and that it’s amazing you have them now.

Think about it: you probably have a nice place to live, a warm meal to put on the table every day, a TV. a microwave, a smartphone, many chances to travel, and a ton of social opportunities. These are things that just a century ago most folks couldn’t even imagine, or would have had to really struggle to obtain. Not to mention all the small pleasures of life: a sunshine, a warm cup of tea, a nice song and so on. That’s something to be grateful for.

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2. Being Present

To be present means to have your focus oriented towards the activity you’re doing and the environment you’re in, instead of being in your head daydreaming or lost in your thoughts. It means to fully experience the moment at hand.

The interesting thing is that when we become present and we let reality flood our senses, all of a sudden we relax and we feel happy. Our problems fly away, our worries take a backseat, and we simply experience reality with delight. This is one of the many reasons why it’s worth practicing living “in the moment”.

The basic instructions for becoming present are simple: as you’re doing a certain activity, you shift your focus from internal to external; you focus your attention on the activity and the context, thus letting go of thoughts that take you away from the present moment. For instance, when you walk down the street, you may be inclined to daydream or dwell on your problems instead of being present, so this is a great time to practice this technique.

Shift your attention externally: notice the feeling of your body and of your feet touching the ground as you take each step. Notice the buildings you pass by, notice the people you pass by. Listen to the sounds around you. Immerse yourself in this sensory experience and you are now being present.

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3. Helping Others

Something psychologists have known for quite a while now is that we human beings have a deep, strong desire to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. We want to help the world, we want to help others, and when we do so, we feel happy.

In addition to the fact that helping somebody in itself makes us feel good, if this action is met with appreciation or kindness from that person, it will makes us feel even better. Fortunately, helping others is something that’s easily available at any time. And that makes it a viable shortcut to happiness.

Right now you can go out and buy something nice for a person in your life and then give it to them, or you can go to the website of a charity organization and make a donation to support a cause you believe in. There is no shortage of opportunities to help others, and I encourage you to take action when you can. It’s guaranteed to brighten your day, and somebody else’s as well.

4. Physical Exercise

Just about anybody who goes jogging, works out, dances, or plays any type of sports on a regular basis can tell you that these activities make them feel good. They generally feel serene, centered and content for hours after doing them. This is because all these activities are centered around physical exercise: when you exercise your body, your mind triggers the release of chemicals in your body that improve your health in the long term. These also give you an instant mood boost—endorphins, for example, are your body’s natural feel-good drug.

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When you’re feeling down, one of the best things you can do is a bit of physical exercise. It will swiftly make you feel a lot better. Of course, it’s always a good idea to also identify the core causes of your negative feelings and deal with them, but that’s something that can take time. It helps a lot if you can first boost your mood quickly, so then you can analyze the problem with more lucidly and seek the best possible solution for it. This is why I encourage you to make physical exercise of whatever type you are likely to enjoy the most a part of your daily routine—the benefits are astounding.

Happiness really doesn’t have to be something you defer for years and years. You don’t need to achieve a certain lifestyle in order to be happy: that’s just a myth. You can be happy right now and enjoy every single day of your life by using simple, tried and tested strategies.

Apply the potent shortcuts to happiness I’ve talked about, and I’m certain that you’ll experience remarkable results.

 

More by this author

Eduard Ezeanu

Eduard is a confidence and communication coach with 7+ years of experience.

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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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