Stop for a moment and ask yourself when was the last time you said something nice? And not just to someone else, but to yourself too? For some reason, having a negative outlook on life, both personal and professional, tends to be more socially acceptable than being positive. Why? Complaining has been justified as a healthy form of venting, and we've convinced ourselves that it will make us feel better too. But in reality, negativity has seriously terrible consequences for your mental and physical health. One study even goes as far to say that complaining can literally kill you.
We know how easy it is to get swept up in the gripe game, but this is one storm your health can't afford to weather. So, it's time to stop the blame game and look inward, because if you're really serious about making the world a better place, then it starts with you. Yes, you. We put together a simple step-by-step guide (backed by science) to turn your mood (and frown) around and help you grow into a much nicer and better person, both inside and out.
How often do you look at your work colleague or a stranger in the street and think to yourself Wow she looks good, and I love her hair. If you're anything like us, it's often—probably daily. But the real question is, how many times did you let that person know? Our guess is not often enough. It's time you started. Paying a compliment to a friend, family member, associate or stranger not only makes them feel good, but it lights up all the happiness sensors in your body too.
According to Gretchen Rubin, it also leaves a positive impression on that person. "We’re much more apt to like someone if we think that person likes us," she wrote. "Look for ways to signal that you enjoy a person’s company." A working paper from Harvard University says compliments are the key to success. Why? Behavioral scientists say it triggers a "best-self activation." The premise is that when you're "reminded of a time you were performing at your absolute best, it will motivate you to reach those high standards once again." So pay someone a compliment, and notice how it makes you, and them, feel. You'll be surprised.
The premise is simple, doing good makes you feel good. While it's not that hard to understand why it does, actually doing it isn't always that easy. Taking a moment out of your busy schedule and removing the busy blinkers takes awareness and precious time that many of us convince ourselves we don't have. But we urge you to try it out. Offer to pay for a stranger's cup of joe next time you're lining up at your local coffee haunt.
According to a study published in The Journal of Social Psychology, acts of kindness increase life satisfaction. Research by the Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia (published in the Journal of Happiness Studies) found a "positive feedback loop" between kindness and happiness, meaning kindness makes you happy and happiness makes you kind. So be nice and joy will follow you.
Ever felt inexplicable joy when you're around someone happy? You can't help but smile right? One Harvard University study found that we can actually catch happiness like an "emotional virus." When someone gets happy, that person’s friend experiences a 25% increased chance of becoming happy. Co-author of the study and political scientist James Fowler told NBC, "Even very small things that happen to us have big impacts on dozens and hundreds of other people. The things that we do and the things that we feel are going to reverberate throughout our social network." So sprinkle that happiness around.
When was the last time you said "How are you?" to someone and actually meant it? As in, you waited for their response and really loaned your ear to listen to their woes? Or did you talk about yourself? Turns out, most of us are really good at the latter. According to one study, we are our favorite topic of conversation. On average, we spend 60% of conversations talking about ourselves and this goes up to a whopping 80% when we're communicating via social media.
But before you think we're insanely narcissistic, there's a reason: Because it makes us feel good. Research suggests that discussing the self activates the same areas of the brain for reward and pleasure that are usually associated with stimuli such as sex, cocaine, and good food. So if you want to be a nicer person, then make someone's day by letting them talk about their favorite subject, themselves.
Did you know that the simple act of hugging someone can benefit their physical and emotional health? According to Dr. Mercola, psychotherapist Virginia Satir once said: "We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth." Mercola says a 20-second hug (and 10-minutes of hand-holding) increases our "love hormone" oxytocin and "reduces the harmful physical effects of stress, including its impact on your blood pressure and heart rate."
Neurologist Shekar Raman told The Huffington Post: "A hug, pat on the back, and even a friendly handshake are processed by the reward center in the central nervous system, which is why they can have a powerful impact on the human psyche, making us feel happiness and joy… And it doesn’t matter if you’re the toucher or touchee. The more you connect with others, on even the smallest physical level, the happier you’ll be." So don't keep your hands to yourself. The power of touch is real and you have it in your grasp.
It's drummed into us as children, but while you bemoaned at the repetition as a youngster, you should probably thank your parents now. Turns out, saying please and thank you is more than just a sign of good manners. A study found that expressing gratitude and providing positive feedback actually boosts people's self-esteem and made them feel "more socially valued." According to Psych Central, "gratitude is more than just a social nicety, or a way of making the helper feel good; it reassures others their help was actually appreciated and it encourages further prosocial behavior." So do a good deed and show people you care with a few very special words: please and thank you.
So you know how your manners affect others, you're letting people talk about themselves, and sprinkling that happiness around, but what about you? Don't leave yourself last, because psychologist Rick Hanson says "kindness to yourself is kindness to others." Taking care of yourself has a positive ripple effect on others. "As your own well-being increases, you’re more able and likely to be patient, supportive, forgiving, and loving," he wrote. "To take care of them, you’ve got to take care of yourself; otherwise, you start running on empty. As you grow happiness and other inner strengths inside yourself, you’ve got more to offer to others." So treat yourself with the same respect you'd treat others and not only will it change your life, but the lives of others too.
How much awareness do you have of the people around you? Have you ever stopped to think that the reason someone's being negative could be a result of other burdens or mishaps in their lives? Try reframing your initial judgment through the lens of mindfulness. Tune into their needs, show empathy and compassion, simply be more aware of the underlying reasons why someone might be behaving negatively. So what is mindfulness? According to Psychology Today, it's simply the opposite of mindlessness. The best part is you can start practicing today, and as research scientist John Teasdale said: "Mindfulness isn't difficult. What's difficult is to remember to be mindful."
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