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The 7 Deadly Sins of Happiness

The 7 Deadly Sins of Happiness

There are a lot of discussions going around about what actually makes people happy.  In fact, in the last two decades, and entirely new field has been created around this question. We refer to this new area of psychology as “Positive Psychology.”

While the scientific world is discovering the many different factors which go into determining how happy a person will be, throughout history we have been told by the greatest philosophers and religious leaders what to avoid in order to be happy. I’ve compiled what I consider the deadliest attacks on our happiness.  These “sins” are so deadly that we often don’t notice we are falling into their trap until we wake up one day and wonder why we are glaring at ourselves in the mirror.

1. Comparing yourself to others

“Comparison is the death of joy.”

Thank you, Mark Twain, for starting our list today.

He’s absolutely right. Whenever you begin to size yourself based on what you see others achieving, you have no choice but to feel unhappy. Either you will feel guilty because you see those less fortunate struggling while you live in relative comfort, or you will feel inadequate because others seem to be better off than you are.  It’s kind of a lose/lose scenario.

Instead, focus on making yourself a little better every day.

2. Talking about your dreams instead of going to work on them

“Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live.” -Nicolas de Chamfort

This brilliant French playwright knew a truth which eludes many to this day: acting will always make you happier than speaking.

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Although it is a great idea to talk about your passions and dreams, if all you are doing is talking, you will find yourself depressed in a very short time. In fact, you will begin to feel like a fraud. You will start to question if you will ever achieve these dreams you speak about, and slowly you will stop speaking about them.

The best way to cure this is to start working on your dreams, while you talk about them. I like to say something to the effect of “I’m building up my readership to become an international best-seller. Right now I’m spending some time building up a loyal fan base on Twitter.” Do you see what I did there? I made a large statement about my end goal, as well as what my current action step is. I may not be able to claim to be a best-seller yet, but I can start to build a fan base on Twitter. By following up my words with actions, I’ll avoid feeling like a fraud.

3. Listening to people with nothing positive to say

“A complainer is like a Death Eater because there’s a suction of negative energy.”

-Barbara Corcoran

Who doesn’t love a good Harry Potter reference? All fictional character allusions aside, you would be much better off taking this wisdom to heart.

Negative people are a drain on you. It’s impossible to become immune to someone complaining in your presence—even when you diligently ignore them, simply being in the same room with someone spouting negatives will affect your mood. The only way to really combat negative people is to avoid them. It is nearly impossible to cheer a negative person up, and even if you succeed for the moment, the chances are high your former sour-puss friend will go back to his/her old ways in short order. The best you can do is go on about your business and stay around positive people.

4. Focusing on the news

“The bad news is that only the bad people reach the news, because they are noisier.”

-Javier Bardem

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When was the last time you finished watching the news and felt good about the world? I don’t believe this has ever happened to me.

In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey points out that the majority of successful people spend very little time watching the news. The primary reason behind this is that we really can do nothing about what we are watching, which leads us to feelings of helplessness and negativity. By focusing so much on problems in other parts of the world, we forget how much good we can do in our local communities.

Instead of worrying what is happening on Capitol Hill, why not focus on what you can do in your neighborhood?  Are there local kids you can mentor? Can you deliver meals to the elderly? Perhaps you can organize a neighborhood beautification project, which will help everyone around you. By focusing on what you can influence locally, you will create a much greater impact on the world than by simply watching the world news and then talking to your friends about how bad things are.  Plus, you’ll be much happier.

5. Deciding someone else needs to change

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

-Jesus (Matthew 7:3)

Regardless of your religious beliefs, there’s no denying the wisdom of Jesus.

Have you ever thought about how much better your life would be if your spouse/coworker/child would just fix themselves(or let you fix them)? You’re not alone. As we can see, this phenomenon has existed for at least 2,000 years, and for much longer, I would wager.

It’s so easy to look at someone else and see exactly what they are doing wrong; the difficult thing is to look at ourselves and see how we can improve instead. As I draw closer to the date of my own wedding, I find myself repeating a simple prayer: “God, please help me be the husband I tell her I am.” I know I don’t always live up to my own expectations of others, but the best place to work is myself.

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Instead of thinking about how others can improve, ferret out your own shortcomings and go to work on them.  Trust me, you have plenty of work on yourself to keep you too busy to correct others.

6. Thinking “happiness” is a destination you can reach

“Joy has nothing to do with material things, or with man’s outward circumstance…A man living in the lap of luxury can be wretched, and a man in the depths of poverty can overflow with joy.”

-William Barclay

Many people walk around saying things like “I will be happy when I get my house paid off” “I’ll be happy when we are finally married” or sometimes “I’ll be happy when we’re finally divorced.” That last one stings a little, but I have had clients tell me that.

You may have the idea that once you accomplish a goal, you will be happy. I’m sorry to tell you, this will never be the case. Whenever you set out to achieve something and base your happiness on that achievement, you have set yourself up for dissappointment.

History is full of people who scrambled madly for money, power, fame, or any other accolade or possession we can think of, only to finally achieve their goal and discover a deep sense of disappointment.  The wisest people realize that happiness is only achieved during our journey, not at the end.

Discover what makes you happy on a daily basis and create goals that line up with those activities. If your greatest happiness comes from teaching and working with children, setting a goal to be CEO of your company doesn’t really line up. You might eventually make CEO, but you won’t feel happy about it; a better goal would be to create a lifestyle business which allows you to teach and work with children as often as you like. Maybe you will make less money, but trading money for true happiness is always a good trade.

7. Forgetting to say “thank you”

“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”

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— Cynthia Ozick

This last sin is probably the most commonly committed. Regardless of what your situation is right now, there are things you should be grateful for.

Do you have someone who loves you? When was the last time you told them how much you appreciate their love? Do you have a job and receive an income? When was the last time you thanked your boss or company president for providing you this opportunity?

Let’s say you are completely alone, broke, and in poor health; you can still read the words written in this post.  Have you thought about how lucky you are someone took the time to teach you how to read, and now you have the opportunity to learn and better yourself because of that gift? Forgetting to stop and say thank you for the blessings you receive keeps you from receiving more blessings.  Worse, the blessing you do receive won’t be recognized because you have learned to focus on what you lack, instead of what you have.

Take a small notepad with you throughout the day and write down any little thing you can think of to be grateful for. I promise you, within 24 hours, you will feel happier than you have in years.

Avoid these sins like the plague, and you will be well on your way to a very happy life.

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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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