TIME psychology

The One Word That Sums Up Everything You Need to Do to Be Happier

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

That word is “PERMA.” It’s an acronym for:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Good Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

Martin Seligman is a professor at the University Pennsylvania and one of the foremost experts on the study of happiness. He gave the following talk in 2011 explaining “PERMA”, the research behind it, and how we can use it to improve our lives. I’ll break it down after the video.

For the longest time the model of happiness we’ve had has followed how we look at health: If you’re sick, we try to make you not-sick. If you’re depressed, we try to make you not-depressed.

But can’t we do more than merely eliminating suffering? Can’t we try to go from normal to happier? Can we flourish?

Seligman explains that the things we need to do to be happier are all tied up in PERMA. So let’s break down what Seligman has to say.

P: Positive Emotion

We need 3 positive things for every negative thing in order to thrive.

Via Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain: How to Retrain Your Brain to Overcome Pessimism and Achieve a More Positive Outlook:

Psychologist Barbara Frederickson is an expert on flourishing and has been an advocate of finding ways to bring more positive emotions into our lives. In her research she discovered a critical 3 to 1 ratio, indicating that we need to have three positive emotions for every negative one in order to thrive.

And:

Frederickson has found out that if we really want to prosper, we shouldn’t try to eliminate negative emotions, rather, we should work on keeping the ratio at three positive for every one negative. Most of us, she has found, have two positive experiences for every negative. This gets us by, but it is effectively languishing.

This also ties in to what Seligman explains is one of the most powerful happiness boosting exercises: 3 blessings.

This technique has been proven again and again. Seligman explains it in his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“ My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“ My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”).

Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?”

E: Engagement

This is what is often called flow. It’s when you’re so wrapped up in what you’re doing that the world fades away:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity… The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task although flow is also described… as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.

When do you usually feel flow? It’s when you’re challenged but not beyond your skill level. Passive activities don’t create flow. Neither do overwhelming challenges.

There are a handful of things that need to be present for you to experience flow:

Via Top Business Psychology Models: 50 Transforming Ideas for Leaders, Consultants and Coaches:

  • Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable.
  • Immediate feedback.
  • Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between personal skill level and the challenge presented.
  • Strong concentration and focused attention.
  • The activity is intrinsically rewarding.

More on creating flow here.

R: Relationships

Seligman talks about a relatively recent discovery in what makes good relationships. Often it’s not how you fight, it’s how you celebrate:

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

Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has demonstrated that how you celebrate is more predictive of strong relations than how you fight.

He also covers the type of speaking that improves relationships. It’s called “active-constructive.”

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

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

M: Meaning

Meaning comes from belonging to and serving something that is bigger than you are.

Can we build meaning in our lives? Yes. Seligman explains one exercise is to write your own obituary. What do you want your legacy to be?

Via Richard Wiseman’s excellent book 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

Asking people to spend just a minute imagining a close friend standing up at their funeral and reflecting on their personal and professional legacy helps them to identify their long-term goals and assess the degree to which they are progressing toward making those goals a reality.

Via Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy:

In the past I’ve encouraged my students to draft their obituary as part of an extra-credit exercise, asking them to write it as they wished it to appear after a long life. I know it sounds morbid, but this assignment is an excellent way to expose the gap between how people live their lives and how they want to be remembered. It’s a sobering experience at any age. The real benefit, of course, is that the writer gets to confront any such inconsistencies before it’s too late. I can’t tell you how many students have told me that this experience was a real wake-up call for them— one that I hope has changed many lives. We all must ask ourselves, if our obituaries were written today, would we be happy with what was written?

9 minutes in to his famous Stanford commencement speech Steve Jobs discusses the importance he placed on thinking about death during life:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

A: Achievement

What has research shown is most tied to success? Seligman says it’s “grit“. Perseverance.

Via Dan Pink’s excellent book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

The best predictor of success, the researchers found, was the prospective cadets’ ratings on a noncognitive, nonphysical trait known as “grit”—defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

Researchers have found that grit is more predictive of success than IQ in a variety of challenging environments from Ivy League schools to military academies to the National Spelling Bee.

More about grit (and how to be “grittier”) here.

Want to learn more about how to use these ideas to be happier? Check out this post.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

10 Videos Guaranteed to Inspire You

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

1) How to be happier

Harvard professor Shawn Achor is the author of the wonderful book The Happiness Advantage.

2) Is it better to come in first… or third?

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of the bestsellers Blink, Outliers and The Tipping Point.

3) Why do we lie? And why do we lie to ourselves?

Great interview with Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves.

4) What’s it take to free yourself of bad habits?

A fantastic interview with Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit.

5) Are there two kinds of happiness?

An excellent presentation on happiness by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow. In it, he draws an insightful distinction: there may be two very different types of happiness.

6) Is vulnerability the key to connecting with others?

One of the most popular TED talks of all time is Brené Brown‘s presentation on vulnerability.

7) What do you want to do before you die?

Candy Chang gives an inspirational talk about a project that asked people to finish the sentence: “Before I die I want to…”

8) Can trying something new for 30 days change your life?

Matt Cutts gives a great talk about how trying new things for 30 days not only helped him learn new skills but also changed him as a person.

9) What motivates us?

Dan Pink, author of the excellent book Drive, explains what makes us do what we do.

10) “What’s more dangerous: incompetent idiots or overconfident experts?”

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the bestsellers Blink, Outliers and The Tipping Point, gives a great talk about why the overconfidence of smart people can be far more dangerous than the incompetence of stupid people.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 140,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

How to Live a Long Happy Life — 8 Insights Backed by Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 145,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

Read next: How Do We Find Meaning in Life?

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME beauty

Study Reveals Americans’ Contradictory Thoughts on Self-Improvement

Most Americans think cosmetic surgery is fine, but also expect celebrities to age naturally

New data shows that Americans believe the best way to do good in the world is through self-improvement–though the exact manner in which U.S. citizens believe one should go about that may not be as clear.

Sixty-six percent of American women say that improving oneself is the best way to accomplish good in the world, compared to 54% of men–though 46% of men and 31% of women think more can be accomplished by improving someone else, according to a new poll from 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair.

When it comes to where to do for a little self-rejuvenation, 35% of pollsters said they turn to a house of worship, and 34% said they go to the gym.

A full 70% of Americans say they think cosmetic surgery is fine, though there is a bit of a double standard for celebrities: 77% of those polled also said that successful actors should age naturally. Americans making over $100,000 per year were the most likely to argue in favor of cosmetic surgery, but 67% of people earning under $50,000 also agreed.

Still, Americans’ aren’t shallow. The poll also reports that 72% of Americans disagree with the phrase: “You can never be too rich or too thin.”

You can see the full poll, here.

TIME Research

The Weird Reason Happy Things Make You Cry

No need to be embarrassed the next time you get all worked up

Think back to the one of the happiest moments of your life, say a wedding day or the birth of a child. During these life-changing moments, it’s safe to say you were probably crying. It may feel silly when it happens—especially if you’re someone who often turns into a blubbering mess over a heartwarming viral video. But it turns out crying when you’re happy isn’t so crazy after all: A forthcoming study in the journal Psychological Science found that people who are often reduced to happy tears may actually be better at regulating their emotions.

HEALTH.COM: 3 Reasons Why Crying Is Good for You

The researchers looked at “dimorphous expressions,” which is the technical term for when you’re experiencing one super strong emotion (say, happiness) but showing two expressions at the same time (like laughing and crying). To reach their findings, they asked people to report how they felt after viewing photos of babies, half of whom had their faces manipulated to give them rounder features and bigger eyes—tweaks meant to essentially push the participants past the edge of cute overload.

As expected, the babies with altered characteristics caused the strongest reactions, and more than half of participants said the photos caused them to feel not only happy but downright overwhelmed. But interestingly, many of the people in the overwhelmed group were also more likely to choose aggressive expressions, saying they wanted to pinch their cheeks or “eat them up.” And those people, the ones who used these dimorphous expressions, found it easier to regulate their intense feelings, says lead study author Oriana Aragón, PhD, a psychologist at Yale University.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Ways We Sabotage Our Mental Health

“People who peaked really high after seeing the babies actually got back down better from the experience,” suggesting that two contrasting expressions may be the brain‘s way of bringing you back into equilibrium, Aragón explains.

The researchers also reported that the cheek-pinchers were more likely to say they shed tears during happy moments—like being reunited with a loved one—so the findings may apply to a lot of situations, from laughing when you’re nervous to bawling over that paraplegic veteran who surprised his new wife by standing up for their first dance.

So, no need to be embarrassed the next time you get all worked up, just let it out. You’ll be back to normal in no time.

HEALTH.COM: 22 Ways to Get Happy Now

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Research

5 Science-Backed Reasons Why Music is Good for You

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Next time you’re preparing for a work presentation, crank up the Bach

Music is a powerful medium: Not only does it make us want to jump to our feet and “shake it off, shake it off” (thanks Taylor Swift), but soul-stirring tunes also can help us fight through myriad health challenges as well. Here are five great reasons to pump up the jams, and listen with intent:

It can help ease pain

Feeling achy? A study conducted in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that when fibromyalgia patients were exposed to 10-minutes of music they liked—anything from pop to folk to classical—that was slower than 120 beats per minute, they experienced less pain versus when they listened to pink noise. The participants also saw an increase in their mobility with the music.

HEALTH.COM: 7 Tricks for Instant Calm

It could help you focus

Next time you’re preparing for a work presentation or studying for something, listen to a little Vivaldi or Bach. A 2007 study from the Stanford University School of Medicine found that tuning into music from the late baroque period, leads to changes in the brain (recorded by an fMRI scan) that help with attention and storing events into memory.

It elevates workout performance

We all know that bopping to Beyoncé can be a lifesaver during that cardio kickboxing class, but did you know it could also be the key to successfully sweating through those unbelievably grueling high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions, too? Researchers had 20 active adults perform two interval workouts—four, 30-second “all-out” cycling sprints with four minutes of rest in between—one with music and one without. Those who sweated to beats not only found the interval training much more enjoyable, but it also revved them up, making them exercise harder, too.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Mood-Boosting Meals

It cheers you up

As we creep into the colder months, those winter blues have a way of raining on our happiness parade. Luckily, music is a proven spirit saver. According to a 2011 study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, certain classical tunes caused folks to get the chills, which in turn led to the release of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that can help you feel jollier. To reap this mood-boosting benefit, download “Clair de Lune,” by Claude Debussy, “New World Symphony—Movement 4,” by Antonin Dvorak, and “First Breath After Coma” by Alexander Keats—they have all been scientifically proven to keep you in good cheer.

It can keep you calm

Switching to mellow music during a stressful drive may prevent road rage and even help you drive better, according to a 2013 study in the journal Ergonomics. Researchers found that upbeat music made people happy, but as soon as the drive became demanding, an abrupt dial change to more soothing tunes kept study participants calmer and boosted driving ability better than those who didn’t change the station as quickly.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Worst Habits For Your Mental Health

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME World

These Maps Show Which Countries Are the Happiest

Costa Rica is number one, according to the Happy Planet Index

If you’re looking for a change of scenery and considering moving to a new country, you may want to consider Costa Rica. According to the Happy Planet Index (HPI), it’s the happiest country on Earth, followed by Vietnam, Colombia and Belize.

These maps, created by MoveHub, show the happiness level of each country across the globe. The HPI is calculated using “global data on life expectancy, experienced well-being and Ecological Footprint.” It’s an “efficiency measure,” ranking countries on “how many long and happy lives they produce per unit of environmental input.”

Check it out:

Happines Index Around the World

As you might have noticed, some of the world’s high-income nations have considerably low happiness ratings, and that’s because many of those countries have high ecological footprints. Also, as MoveHub points out, “the data does not take into account internal inequality measures and human rights issues tied to some countries which are high up in the rankings.” So keep that in mind as you browse the maps. Still, though, we do believe that Costa Rica seems really, really nice.

Read next: The U.S. Is No Longer the Most Popular Country in the World

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Asked: Does Laughing Have Real Health Benefits?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Your body could use a belly laugh

It may not be the best medicine. But laughter’s great for you, and it may even compare to a proper diet and exercise when it comes to keeping you healthy and disease free.

That’s according to Dr. Lee Berk, an associate professor at Loma Linda University in California who has spent nearly three decades studying the ways the aftershocks of a good laugh ripple through your brain and body.

Berk says your mind, hormone system and immune system are constantly communicating with one another in ways that impact everything from your mood to your ability to fend off sickness and disease. Take grief: “Grief induces stress hormones, which suppress your immune function, which can lead to sickness,” he says. Hardly a week goes by without new research tying stress to another major ailment.

Why mention stress? “Because laughter appears to cause all the reciprocal, or opposite, effects of stress,” Berk explains. He says laughter shuts down the release of stress hormones like cortisol. It also triggers the production of feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine, which have all kinds of calming, anti-anxiety benefits. Think of laughter as the yin to stress’s yang.

Thanks largely to these stress-quashing powers, laughter has been linked to health benefits ranging from lower levels of inflammation to improved blood flow, Berk says. Some research from Western Kentucky University has also tied a good chuckle to greater numbers and activity of “killer cells,” which your immune system deploys to attack disease. “Many of these same things also happen when you sleep right, eat right, and exercise,” Berk says, which is why he lumps laughter in with more traditional healthy lifestyle activities.

Berk has even shown that laughter causes a change in the way your brain’s many neurons communicate with one another. Specifically, laughter seems to induce “gamma” frequencies—the type of brain waves observed among experienced meditators. These gamma waves improve the “synchronization” of your neuronal activity, which bolsters recall and memory, Berk says.

How does laughter accomplish all this? That’s where things get murky, says Dr. Robert Provine, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond.

Provine calls himself a “reserved optimist” when it comes to laughter’s health-bolstering properties. “One of the challenges of studying laughter is that there are so many things that trigger it,” Provine explains. For example, you’re 30 times more likely to laugh around other people than when you are by yourself, he says. Social relationships and companionship have been tied to numerous health benefits. And so the social component of laughter may play a big part in its healthful attributes, Provine adds.

Here’s why that matters: If you’re going to tell people they should laugh to improve their health, there may be a big difference between guffawing on your own without provocation, watching a funny YouTube clip or meeting up with friends who make you laugh, Provine says.

“That doesn’t mean the benefits aren’t real,” he adds. “But it may not be accurate to credit laughter alone with all these superpowers.”

But even for researchers like Provine who aren’t ready—at least not yet—to coronate laughter as a panacea, he doesn’t dispute the benefits associated with a hearty har har. He only questions science’s current understanding of the underlying mechanisms.

“When we laugh, we’re in a happy place,” he says. “That’s always a good thing.”

Read next: Is It Good Or Bad To Take A Nap?

TIME psychology

5 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Happier at Work

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Martin Barraud—Getty Images/Caiaimage

Nataly Kogan is the co-founder and CEO of Happier, a digital wellness company.

Research shows there are simple, concrete things you can do to feel more positive

Most people I meet assume that if anyone on the planet is happy at work, I am. Their assumption is easy to understand: I co-founded and run a company called Happier. I make a living by helping other people find more joy in their lives — which is one of the simplest ways to increase your own happiness. I must feel happy all the time!

But: I don’t. Being an entrepreneur is the absolute hardest thing I’ve done professionally. Every day is a psychological battle to not let the overwhelming stress, long hours, uncertainty and emotional rollercoaster of being in a start-up beat me down.

Which means that to be happier at work, I’ve had to become intentional about it. Like working out or eating healthy, being happier is something you have to work on. It’s a skill that takes practice. The good news is that a growing body of research shows there are simple, concrete things you can do that will help you feel more positive at work and they don’t require huge changes.

Start the day on a good note

How you feel in the morning affects how you feel at work for the rest of the day. In one study, researchers analyzed the moods and performance of customer service representatives. Those who were in a good mood in the morning were more productive during the day and reported having more positive interactions with customers.

Make it a point to do something in the morning that makes you feel good.

Take a few minutes to savor your morning coffee (or tea or hot chocolate or whatever you like to drink before the workday starts). This means actually pausing to enjoy it, focusing on what you feel as you drink it and taking a few minutes to do it — not gulping it down as you rush to your desk.

Get some fresh air. Every morning I go for a brisk walk. Rain or shine, I get out there before the day gets going. It’s probably one of the best habits that help me deal with daily work stress. And there’s research to back this up: just 20 minutes of fresh air has been found to boost happiness and feelings of well-being.

Make fewer decisions

One of the hardest aspects of my job as a CEO of a startup is making dozens of decisions daily, often with little or incomplete information.

Decision fatigue is real: each decision you make depletes your cognitive resources, making each future decision more difficult. This can quickly exhaust you and make you feel run down.

So how can you make fewer decisions?

Put some parts of your day on autopilot. For example, have the same thing for lunch or breakfast for a week, then change it up. You’ve just removed a bunch of decisions from your day. (Steve Jobs said that he wore the same outfit daily so that he wouldn’t spend energy deciding what to wear).

Take yourself out of a few decisions. Before weighing in on something at work, ask yourself if (1) it’s high impact and (2) you have a strong opinion about it. If you say no to both then this might be a great opportunity to not weigh in on a decision.

Help a colleague

Helping others makes you happier. And helping your colleagues makes you happier at work.

For example, one study found that people in their mid-30s who had earlier rated helping others at work as important reported feeling happier when asked three decades later. Helping your co-workers seems to create a virtuous cycle; according to another study, happier workers help their colleagues 33% more than those who aren’t happy.

You don’t have to do anything huge or heroic to help. Grab your colleague’s favorite beverage on your way back from getting coffee. Ask them if they need help on a project. Offer to do something simple, like type up notes after a meeting.

The tougher part is making this a regular part of your day instead of something you do only once in a while. One simple way to do this is to put a reminder on your calendar. If you think this is cheesy, give it a shot. You might be surprised at how effective this small habit can become. (And feel free to call it something that makes you smile, like “Time to be awesome, yo!”)

Make progress and acknowledge it

One of the best books about being happier at work I’ve read is called The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. The authors studied motivation in the workplace and found that one of the most powerful causes of positive employee morale and happiness at work was feeling like you’re moving forward and making meaningful progress.

I can attest to this. Even on really bad days, if I can point to a few things that I accomplished, I feel better.

Try this: Before you start your workday, write down three small things you will get done. Do them, preferably before you open your email or take a phone call. Cross them off your list. At the end of the day, go back and look at your list and acknowledge that you made progress.

If you have a huge project ahead of you, it’s hard to feel like you’re making progress unless you break it up into smaller parts. On some days, those parts may have to be tiny. When I sat down to write this article, I only had time to write the title before having to run and take care of something family-related. The next day when I opened the document, instead of feeling bad for not having gotten more done, I felt great that I’d made a start and had a good title to work with.

End your workday with a simple gratitude pause

Here’s the bad news: Our brains are better at remembering the bad than the good. For example, one study found that the negative impact of setbacks at work was three times as powerful as the positive impact of making progress.

We’re conditioned by evolution to seek out what’s wrong and focus on it: this helps us protect ourselves from danger, which is good, but it makes it more difficult to be happier.

The good news is that you can train your brain to better remember the positive things. In other words, you can fight your natural negativity bias.

The simplest way to do this is to think of something you appreciate about your day and write it down. Many studies have shown that when people do this regularly, they report feeling more optimistic and better about their lives overall.

Since you’re likely busy, create a simple gratitude ritual at the end of your day that will be hard to skip. The best way to do this is to connect it to something you already do. For example, my ritual is thinking of something good that happened during the day before I turn my key in the ignition as I start my commute home.

If you share something positive about your day with someone else, even better. Research shows that discussing positive experiences with others enhances how good you feel about them and increases their after-effect.

Nataly Kogan is the co-founder and CEO of Happier, a digital wellness company that combines bite-sized courses with digital tools and a community to help people learn and practice simple ways to be happier daily.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

How to Get People to Like You: 7 Ways From an FBI Behavior Expert

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Meeting new people can be awkward. What should you say? How can you make a good impression? How do you keep a conversation going?

Research shows relationships are vital to happiness and networking is the key to getting jobs and building a fulfilling career.

But what’s the best way to build rapport and create trust? Plain and simple, who can explain how to get people to like you?

Robin Dreeke can.

Robin was head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program and has studied interpersonal relations for over 27 years.

He is the author of the excellent book, It’s Not All About “Me”: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone.

I gave Robin a call to get some answers. (Note that Robin is not speaking for the FBI here, these are his expert insights.)

You’re going to learn:

  1. The #1 secret to clicking with people.
  2. How to put strangers at ease.
  3. The thing you do that turns people off the most.
  4. How to use body language like a pro.
  5. Some great verbal jiu-jitsu to use on people who try to manipulate you.

And a lot more. Okay, let’s learn something.

1) The Most Important Thing To Do With Anyone You Meet

Robin’s #1 piece of advice: “Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them.”

Ask questions. Listen. But don’t judge. Nobody — including you — likes to feel judged.

Here’s Robin:

The number one strategy I constantly keep in the forefront of my mind with everyone I talk to is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them. People do not want to be judged in any thought or opinion that they have or in any action that they take.

It doesn’t mean you agree with someone. Validation is taking the time to understand what their needs, wants, dreams and aspirations are.

So what should you do when people start spouting crazy talk? Here’s Robin:

What I prefer to try to do is, as soon as I hear something that I don’t necessarily agree with or understand, instead of judging it my first reaction is, “Oh, that’s really fascinating. I never heard it in quite that way. Help me understand. How did you come up with that?”

You’re not judging, you’re showing interest. And that lets people calmly continue talking about their favorite subject: themselves.

Studies show people get more pleasure from talking about themselves than they do from food or money:

Talking about ourselves—whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter—triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money…

(To learn how FBI hostage negotiators build rapport and trust, click here.)

So you’ve stopped being Judgy Judgerson and you’re happily validating. Oh, if it were only that easy… What’s the problem here? Your ego.

2) Suspend Your Ego To Make People Love You

Most of us are just dying to point out how other people are wrong. (Comment sections on the internet are fueled by this, aren’t they?)

And it kills rapport. Want to correct someone? Want to one-up them with your clever little story? Don’t do it.

Here’s Robin:

Ego suspension is putting your own needs, wants and opinions aside. Consciously ignore your desire to be correct and to correct someone else. It’s not allowing yourself to get emotionally hijacked by a situation where you might not agree with someone’s thoughts, opinions or actions.

Contradicting people doesn’t build relationships. Dale Carnegie said it many years ago — and modern neuroscience agrees.

When people hear things that contradict their beliefs, the logical part of their mind shuts down and their brain prepares to fight.

Via Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential:

So what happened in people’s brains when they saw information that contradicted their worldview in a charged political environment? As soon as they recognized the video clips as being in conflict with their worldview, the parts of the brain that handle reason and logic went dormant. And the parts of the brain that handle hostile attacks — the fight-or-flight response — lit up.

(For more on keeping a conversation fun, click here.)

So you’ve stopped trying to be clever. But how do you get a reputation as a great listener?

3) How To Be A Good Listener

We’ve all heard that listening skills are vital but nobody explains the right way to do it. What’s the secret?

Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and focus on what they’re saying right now.

Be curious and ask to hear more about what interests you.

Here’s Robin:

Listening isn’t shutting up. Listening is having nothing to say. There’s a difference there. If you just shut up, it means you’re still thinking about what you wanted to say. You’re just not saying it. The second that I think about my response, I’m half listening to what you’re saying because I’m really waiting for the opportunity to tell you my story.

What you do is this: as soon as you have that story or thought that you want to share, toss it. Consciously tell yourself, “I am not going to say it.”

All you should be doing is asking yourself, “What idea or thought that they mentioned do I find fascinating and want to explore?”

Research shows just asking people to tell you more makes you more likable and gets them to want to help you.

The basics of active listening are pretty straightforward:

  1. Listen to what they say. Don’t interrupt, disagree or “evaluate.”
  2. Nod your head, and make brief acknowledging comments like “yes” and “uh-huh.”
  3. Without being awkward, repeat back the gist of what they just said, from their frame of reference.
  4. Inquire. Ask questions that show you’ve been paying attention and that move the discussion forward.

(To learn the listening techniques of FBI hostage negotiators, click here.)

I know, I know — some people are just boring. You’re not that interested in what they’re saying. So what questions do you ask then, smart guy?

4) The Best Question To Ask People

Life can be tough for everyone: rich or poor, old or young. Everyone.

We all face challenges and we like to talk about them. So that’s what to ask about.

Here’s Robin:

A great question I love is challenges. “What kind of challenges did you have at work this week? What kind of challenges do you have living in this part of the country? What kinds of challenges do you have raising teenagers?” Everyone has got challenges. It gets people to share what their priorities in life are at that point in time.

Questions are incredibly powerful. What’s one of the most potent ways to influence someone? Merely asking for advice.

Via Adam Grant’s excellent Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

Studies demonstrate that across the manufacturing, financial services, insurance, and pharmaceuticals industries, seeking advice is among the most effective ways to influence peers, superiors, and subordinates. Advice seeking tends to be significantly more persuasive than the taker’s preferred tactics of pressuring subordinates and ingratiating superiors. Advice seeking is also consistently more influential than the matcher’s default approach of trading favors.

Twisting your mustache thinking you can use this for nefarious purposes? Wrong, Snidely Whiplash. It only works when you’re sincere.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

In her research on advice seeking, Liljenquist finds that success “depends on the target perceiving it as a sincere and authentic gesture.” When she directly encouraged people to seek advice as an influence strategy, it fell flat.

(For a list of the questions that can create a strong bond in minutes, click here.)

But what if you have to approach someone cold? How do you get people who might not want to talk to you to willingly give you their attention?

5) How To Make Strangers Feel At Ease

First thing: tell them you only have a minute because you’re headed out the door.

Here’s Robin:

When people think you’re leaving soon, they relax. If you sit down next to someone at a bar and say, “Hey, can I buy you a drink?” their shields go way up. It’s “Who are you, what do you want, and when are you leaving?” That “when are you leaving” is what you’ve got to answer in the first couple of seconds.

Research shows just asking people if now is a good time makes them more likely to comply with requests:

The results showed that compliance rates were higher when the requester inquired about respondents’ availability and waited for a response than when he pursued his set speech without waiting and inquiring about respondents’ availability.

Nobody wants to feel trapped talking to some weirdo. People are more likely to help you than you think, but they need to feel safe and in control.

(For more on how to make friends easily, click here.)

Even if you get all of the above right you can still come off like a shady used car salesman. And that fear stops you from meeting new awesome people.

Robin says one of the key reasons people come off as untrustworthy is because their words and their body language are misaligned. Let’s fix that.

6) The Best Body Language For Building Rapport

You words should be positive, free of ego and judgment — and your body language (“non-verbals”) needs to match.

Here are the things Robin recommends:

  1. “The number one thing is you’ve gotta smile. You absolutely have to smile. A smile is a great way to engender trust.”
  2. “Keep that chin angle down so it doesn’t appear like you’re looking down your nose at anyone. And if you can show a little bit of a head tilt, that’s always wonderful.”
  3. “You don’t want to give a full frontal, full body display. That could be very offensive to someone. Give a little bit of an angle.”
  4. “Keep your palms up as you’re talking, as opposed to palms down. That says, “I’m hearing what you’re saying. I’m open to what your ideas are.”
  5. “So I always want to make sure that I’m showing good, open, comfortable non-verbals. I just try to use high eyebrow elevations. Basically, anything going up and elevating is very open and comforting. Anything that is compressing: lip compression, eyebrow compression, where you’re squishing down, that’s conveying stress.”

Research backs him up. From Dale Carnegie to peer-reviewed studies, everyone says smiles matter. (In fact, to increase their power, smile slower.)

It makes us happier too. Neuroscience research shows smiling gives the brain as much pleasure as 2000 bars of chocolate — or $25,000.

Via Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act:

Depending on whose smile you see, the researchers found that one smile can be as pleasurable and stimulating as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate! …it took up to 16,000 pounds sterling in cash to generate the same level of brain stimulation as one smile! This is equivalent to about $25,000 per smile…

(To learn how to decode body language and read people like a book, click here.)

So now you come off as the pleasant person you are, not as a scheming taker. But what do you do when the other person is a scheming taker?

7) How To Deal With Someone You Don’t Trust

The name of this blog is not “Helpful Tools For Sociopaths.” I’m not trying to teach you to manipulate others.

But what should do you do when you feel someone is using these methods to try and manipulate you?

Don’t be hostile but be direct: ask them what they want. What are their goals in this interaction?

Here’s Robin:

The first thing I try to do is clarify goals. I’ll stop and say, “You’re throwing a lot of good words at me. Obviously you’re very skilled at what you’re doing. But what I’m really curious about… What’s your goal? What are you trying to achieve? I’m here with my goals, but obviously you have to achieve your goals. So if you can just tell me what your objectives are, we can start from there and see if we can mutually take care of them. If not, that’s fine too.”

I watch for validation. If someone is trying to validate me and my thoughts and opinions, I am alert to it. I love doing that as well. So now I’m looking for intent. Are you there for me or are you there for you? If you are there strictly for your own gain and you’re not talking in terms of my priorities ever, that’s when I’m seeing someone is there to manipulate me.

Want to build a connection with someone? Focus on trust, not tricks. That’s how you earn respect. Trust is fragile. And mistrust is self-fulfilling.

When you ask people what the most important character trait is, what do they say? Trustworthiness.

Participants in 3 studies considered various characteristics for ideal members of interdependent groups (e.g., work teams, athletic teams) and relationships (e.g., family members, employees). Across different measures of trait importance and different groups and relationships, trustworthiness was considered extremely important for all interdependent others…

(To learn how to detect lies, click here.)

That’s a lot more to digest than “Just be yourself” but far more effective. Let’s round it up and make it something you can start using today.

Sum Up

Here are Robin’s tips:

  1. The single most important thing is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them.
  2. Suspend your ego. Focus on them.
  3. Really listen, don’t just wait to talk. Ask them questions; don’t try to come up with stories to impress.
  4. Ask people about what’s been challenging them.
  5. Establishing a time constraint early in the conversation can put strangers at ease.
  6. Smile, chin down, blade your body, palms up, open and upward non-verbals.
  7. If you think someone is trying to manipulate you, clarify goals. Don’t be hostile or aggressive, but ask them to be straight about what they want.

(For more insights from Robin’s book, click here.)

Robin’s a fascinating guy and we ended up speaking for over an hour, so the above is just part of what he had to say.

I’ll be sending out an extended interview in my next weekly email update.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

To learn more from Robin (including the one type of body language that causes you to screw everything up), join over 130,000 readers and get my free weekly update here.

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