How to Practice Gratitude Without Saying One Word

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Over the past 2,00 years, the Nguni tribe have lived on the soil of Southern Africa. For the Nguni tribe, non-verbal communication is an integral part of their daily interactions and way of life.

For example, interacting with someone whilst keeping your hands in your pocket, is considered to be impolite. Conversely, presenting a gift to a host who has invited you to visit their home is a polite gesture. [1]


Within the context of practicing gratitude, we often emphasize the importance of words in expressing gratitude i.e saying thank you, stating what you are grateful for etc. However, non-verbal communication, gestures and actions, also play a crucial role in practicing and expressing gratitude. Here’s how.

Practicing gratitude as a habit

“Your actions speak so loud, that I can’t hear what you say” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the most important ways the Nguni people practice gratitude is through gestures. For example, when receiving a gift, both hands are held out in a cupped position.

According to communications professor at DePauw University, Melanie Finney, this gesture means that “the gift you give me means so much that I must hold it in two hands.” [1]

This powerful gesture is an example of practicing gratitude, highlighting that it’s not just what you say; it’s what you do that matters more.

Here are some ways this can be applied in everyday life:

  • As a Manager or Leader: It’s not just about telling your team how great a leader you are, it’s about showing them by listening to their needs and leading by example.
  • As an Entrepreneur: It’s not just about telling your customers how much you care about them, it’s about innovating new ideas to solve their pain points.
  • As a Friend: It’s not just about telling your friend that you value the friendship, it’s about consistently showing up to support your friend in times of need.
  • As a Partner: It’s not just about telling your partner that you love them, it’s about consistently expressing this love as a habit, regardless of whether you feel like it or not.
  • As a Fellow Human Being: It’s not just about expressing sympathy for the poor, needy and those in desperate need for help, it’s about investing time and money into improving the quality of the lives of impoverished people.

There are many more ways gratitude could be practiced in your life. The key lesson here from the Nguni people is that gratitude is a lifestyle of doing and giving not just talking and receiving.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.”

How are you going to practice your gratitude this week?

Mayo Oshin writes at MayoOshin.com, where he shares practical self-improvement ideas and proven science for better health, productivity and creativity. To get practical ideas on how to stop procrastinating and build healthy habits, you can join his free weekly newsletter here.

A version of this article originally appeared at mayooshin.com as “How How to Practice Gratitude Without Saying One Word”

Want to Live to a Happy, Successful 90 Years Old? This 16-Year Study Says Drinking Wine and Coffee Will Help

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Look, I’m as skeptical as you are when a scientific study tells us something we really want to hear. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. Eggs will kill you, the delicious Bloomin’ Onion is literally the worst food for you on the planet, T-bone steaks will T-ank your blood pressure. That’s what I’m used to.

So it was with trepidation that I read about the wonderful, no, dare I say, transcendent, research findings on life longevity from the 90+ Study. The research findings were presented at the 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual conference by researchers Claudia Kawas and Maria Corrada from the University of California Irvine’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders.

The ongoing study, started 16 years ago, is intended to determine the factors of longevity including understanding what makes people live to age 90 and older and what types of food, activities, or lifestyles contribute to such long lives.

Participants in the study, referred to as “the oldest old” (which is what I feel like some days) are visited every six months by researchers who perform medical, physical, and cognitive tests and who gather dietary and lifestyle information.

Lo and behold, the research is finding that drinking wine (or other alcohol) and coffee in moderation leads to longer lifespans than for those who abstained. The key is, as with so many things in life, moderation.

Honestly, I don’t give a damn why the researchers came to this conclusion, they did, so just let me enjoy this.

Here’s why else this study is important and what else to do.

Let me instead ruminate on just how important this finding is, beyond the “finally, some good news from science” front. Anyone you talk to that enjoys wine and/or coffee will tell you it contributes to their happiness. And researchincreasingly supports that happiness leads to success, not the other way around. So the news of this study not only means that sipping a cup o’ joe and a glass o’ vino is good for life longevity, it will be a happier, more successful life at that.

But it would probably be irresponsible of me to suggest your life plan should stop at more Starbucks and Chardonnay. The study also touts the importance of more of what you’d expect, although even then, with a degree of surprise to it.

First, the more obvious. Life longevity is greatly enhanced by exercising 15 to 45 minutes each day, which reduces the risk of early death by 11 percent.

But this next one has a twist. The study also touts the importance of having hobbies so you can stay mentally sharp. In fact, spending two hours on a daily hobby reduces the risk of early death by a whopping 21 percent, almost twice that of exercising.

So in summary–the most important takeaways here are drink more wine, sip more coffee, and spend more time on your hobbies. At last, a prescription I can follow!

PUBLISHED ON: APR 6, 2019
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The 8 Things The Happiest People Do Every Day

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University of California professor Sonja Lyubomirsky details the things research shows the happiest people have in common.

Via The How of Happiness:

  1. They devote a great amount of time to their family and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
  2. They are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.
  3. They are often the first to offer helping hands to coworkers and passersby.
  4. They practice optimism when imagining their futures.
  5. They savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the present moment.
  6. They make physical exercise a weekly and even daily habit.
  7. They are deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions (e.g., fighting fraud, building cabinets, or teaching their children their deeply held values).
  8. Last but not least, the happiest people do have their share of stresses, crises, and even tragedies. They may become just as distressed and emotional in such circumstances as you or I, but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge.

I guess the blog post could end here. You’ve got your answer. But did you just want trivia? Or do you actually want to get happier?

The internet has become a firehose of ideas we never implement, tricks we forget to use.

Reading a list of things is easy. Implementing them in your life can be hard. 

But it doesn’t have to be. Let’s get down to business.

“Happiness Subscriptions”

Here’s an interesting fact about happiness: frequency beats intensity. What’s that mean?

Lots of little good things make you happier than a handful of big things.

Research shows that going to church and exercising both bring people a disproportionate amount of happiness. Why?

They give us frequent, regular boosts.

Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker says it’s really that simple: the things that make you happy, do them more often.

We have designated work hours. We schedule doctor appointments. Heck, we even schedule hair appointments.

We say happiness is the most important thing but fail to consistently include it in our calendars.

Research shows 40% of happiness is due to intentional activity. You can change your happiness by up to 40% by what you choose to do every day.

happiest-people

And much of what you do, you do on autopilot. 40% of what you do every day isn’t the result of decisions, it’s due to habits.

Via The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.

See where I’m going with this?

Happy things need to be a habit. Part of your routine. Part of your schedule.

Stop waiting for random happy events, you need a “happiness subscription.”

So how do we take that list and make them things we actually do every day instead of more forgotten trivia? Let’s get started.

1) Wake Up And Say ARG!

Even scientific happiness advice is often corny. I’ll say that now so we can get it off the table … But it works.

And this is why you might want to say ARG when you wake up. It’s an acronym that stands for:

  1. Anticipation
  2. Recollection
  3. Gratitude

I’ve written about the importance of a morning ritual and how research shows your mood in the morning affects your entire day. So start right.

Anticipation is a powerful happiness booster. It’s 2 for the price of 1: You get the good thing and you get happy in anticipation of the good thing.

So think about what you’re looking forward to. Got nothing you’re looking forward to? Schedule something.

Recollecting great moments has a related effectMemories allow us to relive the good times and kill stress.

Via The How of Happiness:

People prone to joyful anticipation, skilled at obtaining pleasure from looking forward and imagining future happy events, are especially likely to be optimistic and to experience intense emotions. In contrast, those proficient at reminiscing about the past—looking back on happy times, rekindling joy from happy memories—are best able to buffer stress.

And gratitude is arguably the king of happiness. What’s the research say? Can’t be more clear than this:

… the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.

And the combo often leads to optimism. Another powerful predictor of happiness.

So, corny as it may be, wake up and say ARG! And then do a quick bit of anticipation, recollection and gratitude.

(For more on optimism click here.)

All that’s fine and dandy. But what do you do once you’re out of bed?

2) Savor Your Morning Coffee

Take a moment and really enjoy it. Smell it. Taste it. Appreciate it. Corny? Maybe.

But other research shows savoring — appreciating the good moments — is what separates the happiest people from the average Joe.

I imagine some of you are saying, “Well, I don’t drink coffee.” And please imagine me saying, “That’s not the point.”

It can be anything you do every morning.

And embedding savoring in our little daily rituals is powerful because studies show rituals matter.

Here’s Harvard professor Francesca Gino:

You can think about rituals that you yourself might engage in prior to consumption experiences. What they do, they make us a little bit more mindful about the consumption experience that we are about to have. Because of that, we end up savoring the food or whatever we are drinking more, we enjoy the experience more, and in fact, we’re also more willing to pay higher prices for whatever it is that we just consumed. Once again, rituals are beneficial in the sense that they create higher levels of enjoyment in the experience that we just had.

(For more on how savoring can make you happier click here.)

So what other habit can we build into our schedule that boosts joy? How about one that can make you as happy as sex does?

3) Sweat Your Way To Joy

When you study people to see what makes them happiest you get three answers: sex, socializing and exercise.

Via Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life:

Their findings confirm what had been found previously: happiness is high during sex, exercise, or socializing, or while the mind is focused on the here and now, and low during commuting or while the mind is wandering.

People who exercise are, across the board, mentally healthier: less depression, anger, stress, and distrust.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

A massive Dutch study of 19,288 twins and their families published in 2006 showed that exercisers are less anxious, less depressed, less neurotic, and also more socially outgoing. A Finnish study of 3,403 people in 1999 showed that those who exercise at least two to three times a week experience significantly less depression, anger, stress, and “cynical distrust” than those who exercise less or not at all.

Don’t like exercise? Then you’re doing the wrong kind.

Running, lifting weights, playing any sport… Find something you enjoy that gets you moving.

(For more on how sweating can increase smiling — and make you smarter too — click here.)

Okay, time to head to work. What’s the best thing to do when you start the day? It’s not about you — but it will make you happier.

4) The Five Minute Favor

Who lives to a ripe old age? Not those who get the most help, ironically it’s those who give the most help.

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

We figured that if a Terman participant sincerely felt that he or she had friends and relatives to count on when having a hard time then that person would be healthier. Those who felt very loved and cared for, we predicted, would live the longest. Surprise: our prediction was wrong… Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.

And a great way to do that without taking up too much time is Adam Rifkin’s “5 Minute Favor”:

Every day, do something selfless for someone else that takes under five minutes. The essence of this thing you do should be that it makes a big difference to the person receiving the gift. Usually these favors take the form of an introduction, reference, feedback, or broadcast on social media.

So take five minutes to do something that is minor for you but would provide a big benefit to someone else.

It’s good karma — and science shows that, in some ways, karma is quite real.

Yes, some who do a lot for others get taken advantage of. But as Adam Grant of Wharton has shown, givers also succeed more:

Then I looked at the other end of the spectrum and said if Givers are at the bottom, who’s at the top? Actually, I was really surprised to discover, it’s the Givers again. The people who consistently are looking for ways to help others are over-represented not only at the bottom, but also at the top of most success metrics.

(For more on the best way to get happier by being a giver, click here.)

Alright, you have to start work for the day. Ugh. But there are ways that work can make you happier too.

5) Life Is A Game, And So Is Work

Like the research shows, the happiest people have goals.

Via Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life:

In his studies, the psychologist Jonathan Freedman claimed that people with the ability to set objectives for themselves—both short-term and long-term—are happier. The University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson has found that working hard toward a goal and making progress to the point of expecting a goal to be realized don’t just activate positive feelings—they also suppress negative emotions such as fear and depression.

Many of us feel like work can be boring or annoying but the research shows many of us are actually happier at work than at home. Why?

Challenges. And we reach that state of “flow” only when a challenge presents itself. So how can work make us happier?

Three research-backed things to try:

  1. To the degree you can, do things you’re good at. We’re happier when we exercise our strengths.
  2. Make note of your progress. Nothing is more motivating than progress.
  3. Make sure to see the results of your work. This gives meaning to most any activity.

(For more on getting happier by setting goals click here.)

Enough work. You’ve got some free time. But what’s the happiest way to use your free time?

6) Friends Get Appointments Too

You have mandatory meetings in your schedule but not mandatory time with friends? Absurd.

One study says that as much as 70% of happiness comes from your relationships with other people.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People:

Contrary to the belief that happiness is hard to explain, or that it depends on having great wealth, researchers have identified the core factors in a happy life. The primary components are number of friends, closeness of friends, closeness of family, and relationships with co-workers and neighbors. Together these features explain about 70 percent of personal happiness. – Murray and Peacock 1996

Why does church make people so happy? Studies show it has nothing to do with religion — it’s about the socializing. It’s scheduled friend time.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

After examining studies of more than three thousand adults, Chaeyoon Lin and Robert Putnam found that what religion you practice or however close you feel to God makes no difference in your overall life satisfaction. What matters is the number of friends you have in your religious community. Ten is the magic number; if you have that many, you’ll be happier. Religious people, in other words, are happier because they feel connected to a community of like-minded people.

And if you have the cash, pay for dinner with a friend. Money definitely can make you happier — when you spend it on other people.

Via Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending:

By the end of the day, individuals who spent money on others were measurably happier than those who spent money on themselves — even though there were no differences between the groups at the beginning of the day. And it turns out that the amount of money people found in their envelopes — $5 or $20 — had no effect on their happiness at the end of the day. How people spent the money mattered much more than how much of it they got.

Harvard professor and author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter SpendingMichael Norton explains in his TED talk.

Don’t have the cash for that? No problem. Take turns paying. Duke professor Dan Ariely says this brings more happiness than always paying half.

(For more on how to have happy friendships click here.)

What’s the final thing happy people have in common? They cope with adversity. So what should we do when life gets tough?

7) Find Meaning In Hard Times

Research shows that a happy life and a meaningful life are not necessarily the same thing.

It’s hard to be happy when tragedy strikes. But who lives longer and fares better after problems? Those who find benefit in their struggles.

Via The How of Happiness:

For example, in one study researchers interviewed men who had had heart attacks between the ages of thirty and sixty. Those who perceived benefits in the event seven weeks after it happened—for example, believing that they had grown and matured as a result, or revalued home life, or resolved to create less hectic schedules for themselves—were less likely to have recurrences and more likely to be healthy eight years later. In contrast, those who blamed their heart attacks on other people or on their own emotions (e.g., having been too stressed) were now in poorer health.

In many cases, Nietzsche was right: what does not kill us can make us stronger.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

A substantial number of people also show intense depression and anxiety after extreme adversity, often to the level of PTSD, but then they grow. In the long run, they arrive at a higher level of psychological functioning than before… In a month, 1,700 people reported at least one of these awful events, and they took our well-being tests as well. To our surprise, individuals who’d experienced one awful event had more intense strengths (and therefore higher well-being) than individuals who had none. Individuals who’d been through two awful events were stronger than individuals who had one, and individuals who had three— raped, tortured, and held captive for example— were stronger than those who had two.

So when you face adversity, always ask what you can learn from it.

(For more on how to make your life more meaningful — without terrible tragedy —  click here.)

See that? I took the eight things happy people do and squeezed them into just seven habits. You can thank me later.

Now how do we tie all of these happiness boosters together?

Sum up

If you want every day to be happier try including these seven things in your schedule:

  1. Wake Up And Say ARG!
  2. Savor Your Morning Coffee
  3. Sweat Your Way To Joy
  4. Do A Five Minute Favor
  5. Make Work A Game
  6. Friends Get Appointments Too
  7. Find Meaning In Hard Times

We’re all quick to say happiness is the most important thing … and then we schedule everything but the things that make us happiest. Huh?

So what’s going to make you happy today? Have you thought about it? Is it on your calendar?

Reading happiness information is useless trivia unless you use it and you won’t use it unless it’s part of your routine.

If happiness is the most important thing then make it the most important thing.

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This article first appeared on Barking Up The Wrong Tree

You Really Can Decide to Be Happy. Science Says So

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CREDIT: Getty Images

Is happiness a choice? No… and yes. In The How of Happiness, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky says that 50 percent of happiness is genetically predetermined. In terms of happiness, you are what (half of) you are.

 

But that leaves 50 percent of your level of happiness largely within your control: Health, relationships, career, goals, activities…

 

Which means that even if you have an inborn tendency to skew to the gloomy side, you can still take scientifically proven steps that will make you happier:

1. Find ways to help other people.

While giving is usually considered unselfish, giving can also be more beneficial for the giver than the receiver: Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it.

 

Intuitively, we know that. It feels great to help someone in need. Not only is that fulfilling, it’s a reminder of how comparatively fortunate we are — which is a nice reminder of how thankful we should be for what we already have.

 

Plus, receiving is something you cannot control — if you need or want help, you can’t make other people help you. But you can always control whether you offer and provide help.

 

And that means you can always control, at least to a degree, how happy you are — because giving makes you happier.

2. Actively pursue goals.

Goals you don’t pursue aren’t goals, they’re dreams, and dreams make you happy only when you’re dreaming.

 

Pursuing goals, though, does make you happy. According to David Niven, author of 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life, “People who could identify a goal they were pursuing were 19 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives and 26 percent more likely to feel positive about themselves.”

 

So be grateful for what you have, and then actively try to achieve more. If you’re pursuing a huge goal, make sure that every time you take a small step closer to achieving it, you pat yourself on the back.

But don’t compare where you are now with where you someday hope to be. Compare where you are now to where you were a few days ago. Then you’ll get dozens of bite-size chunks of fulfillment — and a never-ending supply of things to be thankful for.

3. Do what you do well more often.

You know the old cliché regarding the starving-yet-happy artist? Turns out it’s true: Artists are considerably more satisfied with their work than non-artists — even though the pay tends to be considerably lower than in other skilled fields.

 

Why? I’m no researcher, but clearly the more you enjoy what you do and the more fulfilled you feel by it, the happier you will be.

 

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor says that when volunteers picked “one of their signature strengths and used it in a new way each day for a week, they became significantly happier and less depressed.”

 

Of course it’s unreasonable to think you can simply do what you love. But you can find ways to do more of what you do best.

 

Delegate. Outsource. Shift the products and services you provide into areas that allow you to bring more of your strengths to bear. If you’re a great trainer, find ways to train more people. If you’re a great salesperson, find ways to streamline your administrative tasks and get in front of more customers.

 

Everyone has at least a few things they do incredibly well. Find ways to do those things more often.

 

You’ll be a lot happier. And probably a lot more successful (in whatever way you choose to define success.)

4. Make a few really good friends.

It’s easy to focus on building a professional network of partners, customers, employees, connections, etc., because there is (hopefully) a payoff.

 

But there’s a definite payoff to making real (not just professional or social-media) friends. Increasing your number of friends correlates to higher subjective well-being; doubling your number of friends is like increasing your income by 50 percent in terms of how happy you feel.

 

And if that’s not enough, people who don’t have strong social relationships are 50 percent less likely to survive at any given time than those who do. (That’s a scary thought for loners like me.)

 

Make friends outside of work. Make friends at work. Make friends everywhere.

Make real friends. You’ll live a longer, happier life.

5. Actively (and regularly) count your blessings.

According to one study, couples who expressed gratitude in their interactions with each other experienced increased relationship connection and satisfaction the next day — both for the person expressing thankfulness and (no big surprise) the person receiving it. (In fact, the authors of the study said gratitude was like a “booster shot” for relationships.)

Of course the same is true at work. Express gratitude for employees’ hard work, and you both feel better about yourselves.

 

Another easy method is to write down a few things you are grateful for every night. One study showed people who wrote down five things they were thankful for once a week were 25 percent happier after 10 weeks; in effect, they dramatically increased their chances of meeting their happiness set-point.

 

Happy people focus on what they have, not on what they don’t have. It’s motivating to want more in your career, relationships, bank account, etc., but thinking about what you already have, and expressing gratitude for it, will make you a lot happier.

 

It will also remind you that even if you still have huge dreams, you have already accomplished a lot — and should feel genuinely proud.

6. Embrace the fact that (more) money won’t make you happier.

Money is important. Money does a lot of things. (One of the most important is to create choices.)

 

But after a certain point, money doesn’t make people happier. After about $75,000 a year, money doesn’t buy more (or less) happiness. “Beyond $75,000…higher income is neither the road to experience happiness nor the road to relief of unhappiness or stress,” say two Princeton University researchers on the subject.

“Perhaps $75,000 is the threshold beyond which further increases in income no longer improve individuals’ ability to do what matters most to their emotional well-being, such as spending time with people they like, avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure,” the researchers speculate.

 

And if you don’t buy that, here’s another take: “The materialistic drive and satisfaction with life are negatively related.” Or, in layman’s terms, “Chasing possessions tends to make you less happy.”

 

Think of it as the bigger house syndrome. You want a bigger house. You need a bigger house. (Not really, but it sure feels like you do.) So you buy it. Life is good…for a couple months, until your bigger house is just your house.

 

The new always becomes the new normal.

 

“Things” provide only momentary bursts of happiness. To be happier, don’t chase as many things.

 

Instead, chase more experiences.

 

And most importantly: Remember, fifty percent of how happy you are lies within your control.

 

See happiness as a choice — and start doing more of the things that make you happy.

These Are The 10 Happiest And Unhappiest Countries In The World In 2019

Author Article

The 2019 World Happiness Report has been released, and it reveals the countries whose residents say they are the happiest and least happy. The 10 happiest countries are:

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Norway
  4. Iceland
  5. Netherlands
  6. Switzerland
  7. Sweden
  8. New Zealand
  9. Canada
  10. Austria

And the 10 least happy countries are (with 1 being the least happy):

  1. South Sudan
  2. Central African Republic
  3. Afghanistan
  4. Tanzania
  5. Rwanda
  6. Yemen
  7. Malawi
  8. Syria
  9. Botswana
  10. Haiti

The United States placed 19th on the list of happiest countries—down one spot from last year. The world happiness report ranks 156 ranks countries based on a three-year average of surveys taken by Gallup. Factors survey participants are asked to consider include their country’s GDP, social support from friends and family, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, perceived corruption, and recent emotions, reports Bloomberg. Another factor in the rankings is the effect technology is having on people’s happiness. It found that teens who spent more time with digital devices were less happy.

The major bummer about this year’s list? When you factor in population growth, world happiness has fallen in recent years, the report’s authors found. “The world is a rapidly changing place. How communities interact with each other whether in schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, or on social media has profound effects on world happiness,” said professor John Helliwell, co-editor of the 2019 report.

Why Being Near Water Really Does Make Us Happier

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Every time my brother crosses the Sagamore Bridge from mainland Massachusetts to Cape Cod, we all know where he’s heading: a sandy spot off an ocean road on the Nantucket Sound, home to the little beach club my family has belonged to for more than 30 years. On clear days, you can see the shores of Martha’s Vineyard in the distance. That’s his water.

If you talk to Wallace J Nichols, a marine biologist and the author of Blue Mind, a book about the physical and psychological benefits of water, for long enough, he’ll eventually ask you what your water is. And as it turns out, nearly everyone has an answer.

Neuroscience Discovers 5 Things That Will Make You Happy

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GETTY IMAGES

So what’s going to make you happy? Let’s get more specific: what’s going to make your brain happy? And let’s focus on things that are simple and easy to do instead of stuff like winning the lottery.

Neuroscience has answers. I’ve discussed this subject before and it was so popular I decided to call an expert to get even more dead simple ways to start your brain feeling joy.


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Alex Korb is a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at UCLA and author of The Upward Spiral.

So let’s get to it. Alex has some great suggestions for simple things you can do to feel happier every day …

1) Listen To Music From The Happiest Time In Your Life

Music affects the brain in an interesting way: it can remind you of places you have listened to it before.

Were you happiest in college? Play the music you loved then and it can transport you to that happier place and boost your mood. Here’s Alex:

One of the strong effects of music comes from its ability to remind us of previous environments in which we were listening to that music. That’s really mediated by this one limbic structure called the hippocampus which is really important in a thing called “context dependent memory.” Let’s say college was the happiest time of your life. If you start listening to the music that you were listening to at that time, it can help you feel more connected to that happier time in your life and makes it more present.

I hope you weren’t happiest in elementary school because it’s going to be weird if you’re playing the Barney song or the Sesame Street theme around the house.

(To learn more about what the music you love says about you, click here.)

Now you can’t listen to music everywhere you go. What does neuroscience say you should do when you have to take those earbuds out?

2) Smile — And Wear Sunglasses

The brain isn’t always very smart. Sometimes your mind is getting all this random info and it isn’t sure how to feel. So it looks around for clues. This is called “biofeedback.” Here’s Alex:

Biofeedback is just the idea that your brain is always sensing what is happening in your body and it reviews that information to decide how it should feel about the world.

You feel happy and that makes you smile. But it works both ways: when you smile, your brain can detect this and say, “I’m smiling. That must mean I’m happy.”

So happiness makes you smile, but smiling can also produce happiness. Feeling down? Smile anyway. “Fake it until you make it” can work. Here’s Alex:

That’s part of the “fake it until you make it” strategy because when your brain senses, “Oh, I’m frowning,” then it assumes, “Oh, I must not be feeling positive emotions.” Whereas when it notices you flexing those muscles on the side of the mouth it thinks, “I must be smiling. Oh, we must be happy.” When you start to change the emotions that you’re showing on your face, that changes how your brain interprets a lot of ambiguous stimuli. Since most stimuli that we experience is ambiguous, if you start to push the probability in the positive direction then that’s going to have a really beneficial effect.

In fact, research shows smiling gives the brain as much pleasure as 2000 bars of chocolate, or $25,000.

And so what’s this about sunglasses? Bright light makes you squint. Squinting looks a lot like being worried. So guess what biofeedback that produces? Yup. Your brain can misinterpret that as being unhappy.

Sunglasses kill the squint and can help tell your brain, “Hey, everything is okay.” Here’s Alex:

When you’re looking at bright lights you have this natural reaction to squint. But that often has the unintended effect of you flexing this particular muscle, the “corrugator supercilii.” Putting on sunglasses means you don’t have to squint and therefore you’re not contracting this muscle and it stops making your brain think, “Oh my God, I must be worried about something.” It’s really just a simple little interruption of that feedback loop.

So smile. And wear those sunglasses. They can make you look cool and make you happier.

(For more on how to be happier and more successful, click here.)

So you have your music playing, you’re smiling and wearing your sunglasses. But you can still be stressed about things. What should you think about to kill your worries and keep yourself happy?

3) Thinking About Goals Changes How You See The World

And I mean, literally. Researchers flashed a bunch of circles on a screen in front of study subjects. One of the circles was always slightly different than the others. It was brighter or smaller, etc.

But when they told people to prepare to point at or try to grab the circles something crazy happened

If they thought about pointing at the circles, they became better at noticing the brighter circle.

If they were told to think about grabbing a circle, it was easier for them to identify the smaller circle.

What’s that mean? Having a goal literally changed how they saw the world.

So when you’re feeling stressed or challenged, think about your long-term goals. It gives your brain a sense of control and can release dopamine which will make you feel better and more motivated. Here’s Alex:

The goals and intentions that you set in your prefrontal cortex change the way that your brain perceives the world. Sometimes when we feel like everything is going wrong and we’re not making any progress and everything is awful, you don’t need to change the world, you can just change the way you are perceiving the world and that is going to be enough to make a positive difference. By thinking, “Okay, what is my long-term goal? What am I trying to accomplish?” Calling that to mind can actually make it feel rewarding to be doing homework instead of going to the party because then your brain is like, “Oh yeah. I’m working towards that goal. I’m accomplishing something that’s meaningful to me.” Then that can start to release dopamine in the nucleus accumbens and that can start to make you feel better about what you’re doing.

(To see the schedule the most successful people follow every day, click here.)

Sometimes you can try all these little tricks and it doesn’t feel like it’s making a bit of difference. That’s often because you’re missing something that’s really key to good brain function …

4) Get Good Sleep

We all know depression messes up how people sleep. But what’s interesting is it’s actually a two way street: bad sleep also causes depression. Here’s Alex:

They took all these people with insomnia and followed them for a few years and it turned out that the people with chronic insomnia were much more likely to develop depression. Depression causes sleep problems but sleep problems are also more likely to lead to depression.

So how do you improve your sleep? Alex has a number of suggestions:

Get bright sunlight in the middle of the day. At night, try and stay in a dimly lit environment. Having a comfortable place to sleep and having a bedtime ritual so that your brain can prepare to go to sleep are also good. Trying to go to sleep at the same time every night and keeping a gratitude journal can also improve your sleep.

(To learn everything you need to know about having the best night’s sleep ever, click here.)

All this little stuff to feel better is good. But if you’re not getting stuff done at work it’s going to be hard to stay happy. What’s neuroscience say about building good habits and conquering procrastination so you can stay smiling?

5) How Neuroscience Beats Procrastination

Your brain isn’t one big ol’ lump of grey goo that’s perfectly organized. Far from it. Think of it a little more like a bunch of your relatives arguing at the dinner table during a holiday get together.

When it comes to the choices you make and the things you do, Alex says there are 3 regions you need to be concerned with. You don’t need to memorize the names. It’s just important to realize they all get a vote:

  • The Prefrontal Cortex: The only one thinking about long-term goals like, “We need to prepare that report for work.”
  • The Dorsal Striatum: This guy is always voting to do what you’ve done in the past, like, “When it’s time to work we usually start by checking email 9 times, then Facebook, and then watching Netflix.”
  • The Nucleus Accumbens: The party animal of the three. “Email, Facebook and Netflix are fun. Work sucks.”

So guess what you end up doing? Yeah… Ouch.

But when you exert effort, the prefrontal cortex can override the other two and do the right thing. Repeat this enough times and you rewire the dorsal striatum: “We usually start reports quickly. I vote we do that again.

That’s how the brain builds good habits. So why don’t we do that more often? Often the culprit is stress. Here’s Alex:

I have a friend who always says, “Stress takes the prefrontal cortex offline.” Stress changes the dynamics of that conversation. It weakens the prefrontal cortex. That part of your brain doesn’t have infinite resources. It can’t be eternally vigilant and so while it’s not paying attention, your striatum is like, “Let’s go eat a cookie. Let’s go drink a beer.” Anything that you can do to reduce stress can help strengthen the prefrontal cortex’s control over your habits.

So if you want to build good habits and stop procrastinating, the first thing to do is reduce stress. (The best ways to do that are here.)

Procrastination is often a vicious circle because you delay, then you have less time to complete the project, so you get more stressed, procrastinate more, have even less time, which makes you even more stressed and … well, you get the idea.

So what’s the answer? After a little something to reduce stress, find one small thing you can do to get started. This focuses you and prevents the overwhelm that knocks the prefrontal cortex out of the conversation. Here’s Alex:

When the prefrontal cortex is taken offline by stress we end up doing things that are immediately pleasurable. Instead of getting overwhelmed, ask yourself, “What’s one little thing that I could do now that would move me toward this goal I’m trying to accomplish?” Taking one small step toward it can make it start to feel more manageable.

(To learn 5 weird but effective ways to conquer chronic procrastination, click here.)

Time to round up everything we learned. Alex gave us six great …

Wait. Did I only say “5” in the headline? Okay, you’re getting a bonus. Keep reading for Alex’s #1 easy thing to do to cause an upward spiral of happiness in your life …

Sum Up

Here’s what you can learn from Alex about how neuroscience can bring happiness:

  • Listen to music from the happiest time in your life: Let’s hope you had good taste when you were happiest.
  • Smile and wear those sunglasses: You don’t have to wear them indoors. That would be dumb.
  • Think about your goals: It changes how you see the world and releases happy chemicals in your noggin.
  • Get your sleep: Depressed people don’t sleep well. And people who don’t sleep well get depressed.
  • Beat procrastination by reducing stress and doing a simple thing to get started: Listen to those happy-era tunes and then assemble all the materials you need to get cranking.

And what’s that #1 thing that Alex says can start an upward spiral of happiness? It’s dead simple:

Go for a walk outside every morning, preferably with a friend.

Yup, that’s it. How can something so incredibly simple be so powerful? Here’s Alex:

I think the simplest way to kick start an upward spiral is to go for a walk outside every morning, and if possible, do it with a friend. The walk engages the exercise system and when you’re walking outside the sunlight you’re exposed to has benefits on the sleep systems and can impact the serotonin system. If you do it every day, then it starts getting ingrained in the dorsal striatum and becomes a good habit. If you can do it with a friend, that’s even better because you get the social connection.

Right now: share this post with a friend and ask them to join you for a walk tomorrow morning. That’s it. (And wear your sunglasses.)

Go outside. Put one foot in front of the other. Smile with a friend. And you’re on your way to neuroscientific happiness.

Looks like it really is the simple things in life that bring us joy.

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This article first appeared on Barking Up The Wrong Tree.

Study Finds Mindful People Are Happier With Their Sex Life

Author Article

Married adults who are more aware of the present moment tend to have higher levels of sexual satisfaction, according to new research published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. The research suggests that mindfulness plays an important role in sexual wellbeing.

“I’ve been studying sex for some time and a number of years ago, I was introduced to mindfulness. Sex and mindfulness just seemed like a natural fit. People often struggle to feel connection and purpose in sex,” said study author Chelom E. Leavitt, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University.

“It may initially seem a little counter-intuitive, but slowing the experience down, being less goal-oriented, and more intentional, actually helps people feel better about themselves, closer to their partner, and more satisfied with the sexual experience.”

“When I teach sexual mindfulness to couples, most are a little skeptical at first. However, as they practice, they are amazed at the importance of awareness, curiosity, acceptance and letting go of self- and partner-judgment.”

Previous research has found that women who practice mindfulness meditation are more likely to report better sexual functioning and higher levels of sexual desire. But the researchers were interested in examining the potential influence of sexual mindfulness in particular, meaning the tendency to be aware of and accept one’s thoughts and emotions without judgment during sex.

For their study, the researchers surveyed 194 married, heterosexual individuals who were 35 to 60 years old. Leavitt and her colleagues found that more sexually mindful participants tended to be more satisfied with their relationships and sex lives. They also had better self-esteem compared to less mindful participants.

“The average person can improve their sexual relationship with a little instruction and practice. It doesn’t require new positions or special skill. Better sex may be as simple as slowing down, being less judgmental about yourself and your partner, and paying attention to touch, arousal, and the connection felt during sex,” Leavitt told PsyPost.

The association between mindfulness and sexual satisfaction was stronger among female participants, suggesting it may play a more important role for women.

“There are lots of questions still to be answered,” Leavitt said. “I just finished an intervention (a follow up study to this one) that taught couples about sexual mindfulness. We found significant positive results in the pilot study and are now doing a larger study that examines couples over time. Some people with high anxiety may find it is difficult to be mindful, but most people can learn this skill with a little guidance and practice.”

“This research is refreshing because it is science based — not some trendy solution. It is exciting for couples to learn simple skills that effectively help them create more meaning and joy in their romantic and sexual relationship,” Leavitt added.

The study, “The Role of Sexual Mindfulness in Sexual Wellbeing, Relational Wellbeing, and Self-Esteem“, was authored by Chelom E. Leavitt, Eva S. Lefkowitz, and Emily A. Waterman.

Positive Psychology Exercises Increase Happiness In People Recovering From Substance Use

Author Article

Positive psychology,Positive psychology exercises,Substance abuse
The study, published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, examined whether positive psychology exercises increase happiness in people recovering from substance use.(Shutterstock)

Self-administered exercises can significantly boost in-the-moment happiness for adults recovering from substance use disorders, suggests a recent study.

The study, published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, examined whether positive psychology exercises increase happiness in people recovering from substance use.

“Addiction scientists are increasingly moving beyond the traditional focus on reducing or eliminating substance use by advocating treatment protocols that encompass quality of life. Yet orchestrated positive experiences are rarely incorporated into treatment for those with substance use disorders,” said Bettina B. Hoeppner, lead author of the study.

As part of the study, the authors noted that effectiveness of positive psychology exercises may be promising tools for bolstering happiness during treatment and may help support long-term recovery.

According to lead researchers, the study underlines the importance of offsetting the challenges of recovery with positive experiences. Recovery is hard, and for the effort to be sustainable, positive experiences need to be attainable along the way.

9 Ways Happy People Start Their Mornings

Author Article

Everyone approaches their morning differently. Some people wake up excited to start their day. Others like to ease into their day more gradually. No matter how you like to start your morning, there are things you can do to ensure every day gets off to a great start.

A good morning routine will help you feel relaxed, alert and energized. Starting your morning on the right foot means creating a feeling of happiness that you can carry with you all day long. Your morning routine should include not only getting ready, but also making space for feeling joy and feeling mentally and physically prepared to take on whatever the world has in store for you.

Start your day off the right way with these 9 habits that happy people use to get their morning going. (Hint: It’s not about gulping coffee and running out the door.)

1. Get enough sleep.

An exhausted person isn’t a happy person. Nothing will kill your happiness faster than waking up tired and grumpy. If you aren’t getting enough sleep at night, you’re probably starting your day drained and irritated. It’s hard to have a positive outlook when all you want to do is crawl back into bed.

A good night’s sleep is like a magical elixir for your physical health, and is key to your overall sense of happiness and well-being. Research has shown that sleep is one of the most effective ways to improve concentration, strengthen the immune system and improve a person’s mood and feeling of well-being.

However, not getting enough sleep impairs memory and increases levels of stress hormones. So, the first step to creating a happy, cheerful morning is ensuring you get enough quality sleep the night before. Set a sleep schedule for yourself and stick to it — your happiness may depend on it.

2. A new day, a new start.

Happy people begin each day anew. They wake up with the mindset that each day is a new beginning — a chance to move forward and not let past failures weigh them down. Yesterday may have been a rotten day, but that doesn’t mean today has to be.

Happy people start their day with an affirmation. They declare from the outset how they want their day to go. A positive morning affirmation can be a powerful way to start your day feeling confident and ready for success. Examples include:

  • I have the knowledge to make smart decisions for myself.
  • I am, and always will be, enough.
  • I let go of any negative feelings about myself or my life and accept all that is good.
  • I am courageous. I am willing to act and face my fears.

3. Wake up grateful.

Waking up with a feeling of gratitude ensures you start your day in good spirits. A thankful heart is a happy heart. Gratitude is powerful because it’s both a feeling and an action. Actively thinking about things you’re grateful for, in turn, makes you feel grateful. It’s a positive thought loop that’s easy to practice and has beneficial effects on your physical and mental health.

You can wake up feeling grateful by simply taking a moment when you first open your eyes to look about and feel a swell of appreciation for everything around you. Recognize how wonderful this moment is, and how good it feels to be here. Today is a gift, and you can do with it what you will. You can choose to make the most of it. You can choose happiness. Take a moment to acknowledge all you have and see the possibilities of the day before you.

4. Keep a manageable morning routine.

Happy people don’t frantically tear around trying to get ready at breakneck speed and then rush out the door, already late for their first meeting or appointment of the day. Doing this will set you up for feeling stressed out and harried all day long. Starting the day with a contented and peaceful attitude requires you to have time to wake up properly and to get ready at a calm and measured pace.

Happy people tend to keep their routine simple and manageable. A complex routine is hard to stick to and can leave you feeling anxious and exasperated first thing in the morning. Cut out multitasking and reject unneeded distractions, like checking and returning email while trying to get ready. Do one thing at a time. Keep your morning uncomplicated and as stress-free as possible so you’ll set yourself up to be in a good mood all day long.

5. Meditate

Daily meditation, whether it’s a quick five-minute practice or a lengthier session, can help create a contented and happy mind. Spending time meditating each morning improves focus, increases self-esteem and confidence, and quiets the cacophony of mental angst and turbulence we are constantly contending with. You can meditate at any time of day, but it’s best to do it in the morning so you’re sure to get it in, and so you can benefit from its effects throughout the day.

To begin the practice of meditation, start by sitting quietly in a comfortable position or in a chair for two minutes every morning. This is a chance for you to check in with how you’re feeling, both in your mind and body. Be focused on the moment. Turn your attention to your breaths or do a body scan, focusing on one body part at a time. Recognize your thoughts and feelings, and maintain a loving attitude toward yourself. Meditation is a chance to get to know yourself and be aware of each moment you are in.

6. Start your day with exercise.

Before you dive into a long day of work, make sure you take time to get some exercise in. Some people find that fresh air first thing in the morning brightens their mood all day. Try a brisk walk, a run around the block or a trip to the gym. Other people may prefer to start their day with a home workout, such as stretching or yoga.

Morning exercise gets your blood flowing and gives you a boost of energy for the day. Exercise also releases feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These may buffer feelings of stress and anxiety, and help relieve symptoms of depression. Research has shown that working out improves how we feel about our bodies and gives us a sense of well-being.

7. Make your bed.

It may sound silly, but beginning your day by making your bed can set you up for feeling ready to take on the world. According to one survey of 2,000 Americans, bed makers tend to be adventurous, confident and sociable. People who don’t make their beds tend to be shy, moody and sarcastic.

Many successful people recommend making your bed as a simple way to start the day off on the right foot. For example, Tim Ferriss has said that the simple act of bed making teaches us that it’s the little things in life that matter.

US Navy SEAL commander Admiral William H. McRaven gave a now-famous commencement speech at the University of Texas in which he said that making your bed is so powerful because it gives you a feeling of accomplishment first thing in the morning. It encourages you to take on even more tasks and motivates you to get more done in life.

8. Nourish your body.

You’ve heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it’s true. Eating breakfast jump-starts your metabolism and gets your body and mind prepped for a busy day. Research has found that breakfast eaters have better diets and consume more fruit and vegetables than those who don’t eat breakfast.

But just as important, a nourished body leads to an improved mood. Eating breakfast also sends a positive message to yourself that you are taking care of your health and well-being. You’ll find you can concentrate better if you start the day with a healthy meal. You’ll be less likely to feel fatigued and get that “hangry” feeling mid-morning, which leads to overeating at lunch. The best breakfasts pair carbs with proteins to get your body fueled and ready to go.

9. Set goals for the day.

Happy people often have a sense of purpose. They aren’t wandering aimlessly through life; they work each day to make progress and accomplish their tasks. It feels satisfying to have set priorities for yourself and strive to meet milestones. Happy people make sure they begin their day by setting goals for themselves. What do you want to accomplish today? What is the most efficient and effective use of your time?

Make it a point to spend a few minutes each morning determining what you want to do that day. Be sure to think through your to-do list carefully — often we spend too much time on things that aren’t really important. Focus on what matters and make sure you’re scheduling downtime. After all, the secret to lasting happiness is finding ways to enjoy each day in its entirety.

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