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4 Unexpected Sources of Happiness

4 Unexpected Sources of Happiness

Humans have been discussing what it means to be happy for thousands of years, and what we have to do in order to achieve this elusive and desirable state. Modern science has confirmed many ancient philosophies of happiness – like accepting things the way they are and expressing gratitude, as well as offering new insights, such as the fact that happiness tends to increase with income up to the $60,000 level before leveling off.

Yet, despite this knowledge, the achievement of happiness remains a difficult if not impossible task for many of us. Sometimes, the extra boost we need comes not from well-trodden conventional wisdom, but utterly surprising, unexpected sources.

1. Lower Your Expectations

Most of us hear the words “you can be anything you want to be” ringing in our ears. We’re constantly sold the image of people who can be, do or have anything and everything they want in life – and that it’s easy! This is not an accurate reflection of reality and sets us up for disappointment. Of course, with hard work and dedication we can all become excellent at somethingbut going through life with massively inflated expectations sets us up for massive disappointment – not success.

Lowering our expectations isn’t about being negative or pessimistic, it’s about eliminating the sense that we’re entitled to positive outcomes and accepting that most things don’t go exactly as planned. Aspire to greatness and expect little. That’s the recipe for happiness.

2. Throw Out Your Goals

There’s hardly a more universally-accepted idea about happiness than goals and goal-setting. Set good goals and happiness is yours! But this conventional wisdom has been thrown into doubt by the work of psychologists like Dan Ariely. In his book, “Predictably Irrational,” he reveals that the achievement of goals only provides a short-term boost of emotion and does little or nothing to affect our overall happiness.

Does that mean goal-setting is useless? Of course not. Goals are a great way to express our values and to orient ourselves towards action. We have to realize that reaching a goal doesn’t fundamentally change who we are or how we see the world. It’s the internal work that we do, not the external results we create, that determine how happy and fulfilled we feel.

3. Set Yourself An Income LIMIT

Money worries top nearly everybody’s list of concerns. No matter how much we make or how much we have, it seems like there’s never enough. We try to overcome these fears by increasing our earning and limiting our spending. But there’s another, counter-intuitive option: Set a cap on our income.

Why? Because this forces us to define one crucial thing that no other technique adequately addresses: how much is enough. And while this seems crazy at first, we can realize that we do this in almost every area of our life: how much food to eat, how many cars to own, how much TV to watch, etc.

And one thing we can notice with these limits, is that dysfunction starts to occur when they’re not adhered to: obesity, excessive consumption, and in the case of money, debt or workaholism. So where should we set our personal income limit? Low enough to feel some minor discomfort – we live in a society of excess after all – and not so low that we feel outright fear.

A good benchmark to use is the median income level in your area (if you live somewhere with relative income equality). An income limit forces us to examine what is truly important to us and where we’re unconsciously following social norms and expectations. This way we have to decide what we value and where we want to invest our limited financial resources in the exact same way we have to choose how to invest our limited time and energy each day.

Once we do that, and we start putting our money towards the things that matter most, then we can start doing the impossible: buying happiness.

4. Stop Self-Analyzing

We should all spend time reflecting on our past and planning for the future, but this behavior can be detrimental if done excessively. By placing constant surveillance on ourselves, wondering, “am I happy now?” and then asking why or why not, we take ourselves out of the moment and cease being able to enjoy it.

If we insist on analyzing each and every emotion that floats across our consciousness, we put ourselves at the mercy of people and environments that are going to sway our emotions whether we want them to or not. Instead, we must learn to stay present and focused on the situation at hand, and save reflection for a special time we’ve set aside explicitly for that purpose.

Conclusion

These strange sources of happiness, being at odds with conventional wisdom, may take adjusting before we can integrate them into our lives. Take it slow, choosing the one idea you feel will have the most impact on your life, and work on adopting the new mindset and seeing how it works for you.

Know any other unexpected sources of happiness? Share them in the comments below!

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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

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