TIME psychology

5 Key Components of a Good Apology

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Apologies do make a difference. People often prefer them over money, even if they’re just cheap talk.

What does the research say about the best way to apologize?

 

One

Don’t apologize for what you think you did wrong. Apologize for what they think you did wrong:

…victims reacted most positively to apologies that were congruent with their self-construals.

 

Two

The most effective apologies have four parts:

Via Wait: The Art and Science of Delay:

Aaron Lazare devotes two full chapters of On Apology and much of his subsequent research to questions of timing and delay. He finds that effective apologies typically contain four parts:

1. Acknowledge that you did it.

2. Explain what happened.

3. Express remorse.

4. Repair the damage, as much as you can.

This aligns with previous research on effective apologies:

Results indicated that relationships recovered significantly when offending partners used behaviors labeled as explicit acknowledgment, nonverbal assurance, and compensation.

 

Three

Timing is crucial — and faster is not better. People need to feel they are heard and understood so a delayed apology is actually more satisfying.

Via Wait: The Art and Science of Delay:

The results were stark: “Apology timing was positively correlated with outcome satisfaction; when the apology came later in the conflict, participants reported greater satisfaction.” Statistical tests showed that, the greater the delay, the more a victim felt heard and understood. With more time, there was more opportunity for voice and understanding.

 

Four

If it’s clear you intentionally did something wrong, you’re probably better off notapologizing. After intentional acts, apologies tend to backfire and make things worse:

An apology does not help at all after clearly intentionally committed offenses. On the contrary, after such offenses harmdoers do better not to apologize since sending an apology in this situation strongly increases punishment compared to remaining silent.

 

Five

Are they not accepting your apology? A little guilting can be effective. Being reminded of times when they did something wrong makes people more likely to accept apologies and forgive:

…participants in the recall-self-as-wrongdoer condition were significantly more likely to accept the apology from the classmate and forgive the transgression.

 

A Final Tip

Hopefully you won’t need this list too often. However, you may want to keep the principles in mind for next time you get pulled over. Studies have shown that apologizing to the police is one of the few effective ways to get out of a speeding ticket.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME

Negrophobia: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and America’s Fear of Black People

Demonstrators march down West Florissant during a peaceful march in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown, near Ferguson, Mio., Aug. 18, 2014.
Demonstrators march down West Florissant during a peaceful march in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown, near Ferguson, Mio., Aug. 18, 2014. Lucas Jackson—Reuters

Phobias are extreme aversions embedded deep in our psyches, activated when we come face-to-face with the thing we fear. Some people are afraid of black people.

Phobias are lethal. This summer’s series of prominent killings of unarmed Black men, Michael Brown being the most covered, have forced me to come to terms with my own fear: I am an arachnophobe.

A few nights ago, I noticed a dark spot in my periphery. Suddenly it twitched. My stomach dropped. The dark spot was a five-inch spider, looking as if it had muscle and bone. There was no possible way I could sleep soundly until the behemoth was neutralized. I scrambled to find a shoe, then swung it with all my might. With a clap of thunder, the big dark enemy was no more; flattened to a wall stencil. Relief.

Phobias are extreme aversions. They are embedded deep in our psyches, activated when we come face-to-face with the thing we fear. For me, spiders trigger overreactions. For others, it can be people.

Black people.

Before there was Michael Brown, there was Eric Garner, a dark spot in the periphery of the NYPD—a trigger for their phobia. There was no possible way they could patrol confidently that day without assurance the behemoth was neutralized.

Garner’s 400-pound anatomy forms an object of American Negrophobia: the unjustified fear of black people. Studies show that Black people, particularly Black men, are the group most feared by White adults. Negrophobia fuels the triangular system of oppression that keeps people of color pinned into hapless ghettos between the pillars of militarized police, starved inner-city schools, and voracious prisons. And this summer there weren’t only Garner and Brown; there were John Crawford, and Ezell Ford, and many others who will not be eulogized in the media.

Even the most well-intentioned people sometimes have difficulty avoiding discourses that reinforce problematic notions of Black physicality. A few months ago, I got into a conversation with a mentor of mine, a Stanford administrator. This individual told a story of a visit to a penitentiary where there was a stellar performance of Shakespeare’s Othello by a cast of inmates. My mentor’s description of the lead, a brawny African-American male convict, will always fascinate me. In this person’s words, the thespian was a “large, beautiful, intimidating Black man.”

This stream of modifiers—large, beautiful, and intimidating—is normally reserved for majestic, predatory beasts like tigers, bears, or dragons. It describes something both appealing and appalling, but not typically a human. You can see classic buck and brute tropes echoed in various corners of modern popular culture. These types of perceptions of historically marginalized groups can, in the wrong circumstances, foment phobias—and dangerous overreactions.

But misperception is nothing new. The bestial depiction, and treatment, of Black people follows a linear history from the times of pickaninny children to the current United States president.

I hate to think this is what the police see when they approach any unarmed Black person—a predator that has escaped captivity and must be tranquilized before he or she wreaks havoc. And yet. An officer quelling Ferguson protests can be heard screaming on live television, “Bring it, all you f****** animals!” to the predominantly Black demonstrators.

Back to the spider once more: my perception of the fear and the ability of that spider to actually produce the threat I have mentally assigned it were completely disproportionate. It was just me spooking myself into fury. Phobic people hyperbolize a threat that is not actually present, and trip themselves into aggression. We as Americans must learn to see each other properly and not through the lens of phobia.

This is a plea to those officers who are unflinching in the gravest of dangers, whose courage is forged in the crucible of our nation’s worst emergencies, yet who lose all composure when facing the grimace of a Black man. The concept of diversity, like Eric Garner, is large, beautiful, and sometimes intimidating. America will only be America once we learn how to fully appreciate it, not fear it. One day, I hope, we won’t see our fellow humans as dark spots.

Brandon Hill is a junior at Stanford University, studying political science and African & African American Studies. Raised in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, he has interned for the White House and UNICEF.

TIME psychology

5 Fool-Proof Ways to End Procrastination Today

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polygraphus—Getty Images

Understanding what causes us to put things off helps tame the beast

“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done the day after tomorrow,” quipped Mark Twain. Waiting until later is one of life’s guilty secrets, but chronic procrastination is linked to poorer health, work and relationship outcomes. Thankfully there are some straightforward ways to put off putting-off, and the way you think about a task can impact your desire to get it done.

In one psychological study, participants were given a 15-minute head start on a math test, during which time they could choose to practice for the test, play a video game or work on a puzzle. When the math test was introduced as an important measurement of cognitive ability, those with a propensity to procrastinate spent more time playing video games or doing the puzzle than others. But when the math test was described as a fun game, there was no difference in the amount of time procrastinators and non-procrastinators spent playing the video game or puzzle.

Understanding what’s causing us to procrastinate helps tame the beast. Research has shown there are five main reasons people leave things until later:

  1. Complacency, which comes from an overly strong sense of self-confidence. It can appear as laziness or general lack of concern. This is when you tell yourself, “It’s easy to do so I’ll fit it in later.”
  1. Avoiding discomfort, a type of procrastination that focuses on the unpleasantness of an activity, particularly compared to a more favorable activity. When you’re avoiding discomfort you tell yourself, “I’d much rather do something easier instead.”
  1. Fear of failure, when the fear of not succeeding inhibits you from moving forward. This is when you don’t step forward for a promotion or avoid asking someone on a date because you’re afraid you’ll be turned down.
  1. Emotional state, when you’re too tired, too hungry, too stressed to get anything productive done. Think about when you tell yourself, “I’m just not in the mood to do this right now.”
  1. Action illusion, where you feel like you’re doing all the right things, but no real progress has been made. For example, if you are a keen project planner, this could mean that every time the project gets behind, the plan gets updated, but no progress is actually made.

Next time you recognize yourself procrastinating in one of these ways, think again. There are times when the way an activity is set up can make a big difference to your approach. In those instances, it is even more useful to have some general tactics to try to remedy procrastination. Here are five:

  1. Strive for five – the five-minute start

Five minutes is nothing—it’s just three hundred seconds. It’s the length of a song or a TV commercial. Pick up a project you’ve been putting off and give it just 300 seconds of your time. Once the five minutes is up, stop and reassess. After awhile, the momentum of beginning the task will carry you forward.

  1. Home run – set goals and rewards

During the day, set goals and rewards. Each time you hit a goal, you earn the reward: a short break, a hilarious YouTube video, or some other incentive. It’s important the goals are realistic and the rewards are in proportion. Make sure you select a time to review your progress and adjust your targets accordingly.

  1. Be good to yourself – me today versus me tomorrow

Sometimes, when you find yourself buried with work, you feel upset with yourself for not having started earlier. Imagine a conversation between ‘you today’ and ‘you tomorrow’. If ‘you tomorrow’ could chat with ‘you today,’ what would he have to say?

  1. Set creative punishments – negative consequences

Make the consequences of inaction so unbearable that you have no choice but to get busy now. You could write a check to someone or something you really dislike: a rival team, if you’re a sports fan, or to the opposing political party. Give the check to a friend with strict instructions to mail the check if you do not achieve your goal. The more you dislike the other party, the stronger the incentive to get the task done.

  1. I was there – witnessing accountability

Going public with a goal increases your support and accountability. Consider going on a diet: Is there more pressure if you don’t tell a soul, or if you announce it to all your friends, with strict instructions to refuse if you ask for a chip? It may seem an obvious way of making yourself feel guilty, but it can also be highly effective. Be careful with this tactic, as some research has found that making intentions public gives us a false sense of progress and thereby reduces the likelihood of success – it’s the action-illusion issue I mentioned earlier. So here’s the trick: ask for support, but don’t kid yourself that support equals progress.

Procrastination is the silent killer of dreams. Everyone suffers from it. By seeking to understand and fix your procrastination, you’ll discover you jumpstart many areas of your life.

Dr. Sebastian Bailey is a bestselling author and the co-founder of Mind Gym, a corporate learning consultancy that transforms the way people think, act and behave at work and at home. His next book, Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently, will be out on September 9, 2014. The book gives readers actionable ways, based on years of research, to change their way of thinking to achieve more, live longer and build better relationships. Connect with Sebastian on Twitter @DrSebBailey.

TIME psychology

6 Things to Do to Improve Your Relationship

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In the past I’ve covered the research regarding what you should look for in a marriage partner.

What do studies say about what you can do to improve your relationship?

Excitement

Divorce may have less to do with an increase in conflict and more to do with a decrease in positive feelings. Boredom really can hurt a relationship:

Being bored with the marriage undermines closeness, which in turn reduces satisfaction, Orbuch said.

“It suggests that excitement in relationships facilitates or makes salient closeness, which in turn promotes satisfaction in the long term,” she said.

We spend a lot of time trying to reduce conflict but not enough time experiencing thrills. And the latter may be more important.

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.

The research points again and again to how important thrills are:

  • Think a pleasant evening is all it takes? Researchers did a 10 week study comparing couples that engaged in “pleasant” activities vs “exciting” activities. Pleasant lost.

So do something exciting. Go dancing together or anything else you can both participate in as a couple.

Let Yourself Be A Little Deluded With Love

Being a little deluded helps marriages:

…people who were unrealistically idealistic about their partners when they got married were more satisfied with their marriage three years later than less idealistic people.

And it’s not just true for marriages:

…relationship illusions predicted greater satisfaction, love, and trust, and less conflict and ambivalence in both dating and marital relationships. A longitudinal follow-up of the dating sample revealed that relationships were more likely to persist the stronger individuals’ initial illusions.

5 to 1

Keep that ratio in mind. You need five good things for every bad thing in order to keep a happy relationship:

A 2.9: 1 means you are headed for a divorce. You need a 5: 1 ratio to predict a strong and loving marriage— five positive statements for every critical statement you make of your spouse.

And when you’re dealing with your mother-in-law the ratio is 1000 to 1. I’m not kidding.

Be Conscientious

Conscientiousness is the trait most associated with marital satisfaction:

…our findings suggest that conscientiousness is the trait most broadly associated with marital satisfaction in this sample of long-wed couples.

Actually, you can kill a lot of birds with this one stone because it’s also associated with longevity, income, job satisfaction and health.

Gratitude

Gratitude can be a booster shot for a relationship:

…gratitude had uniquely predictive power in relationship promotion, perhaps acting as a booster shot for the relationship.

It can even create a self-perpetuating positive feedback loop:

Thus, the authors’ findings add credence to their model, in that gratitude contributes to a reciprocal process of relationship maintenance, whereby each partner’s maintenance behaviors, perceptions of responsiveness, and feelings of gratitude feed back on and influence the other’s behaviors, perceptions, and feelings.

Try

Sounds silly but it’s true. Want a better relationship? Try.

Sounds ridiculous but:

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

Over-Confident People Are Seen as Smarter, Even When They’re Not

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Fooling yourself can help you fool others into thinking you're not a fool

Turns out “fake it till you make it” is actually real. A new study found that over-confident students were more likely to be perceived as smart by their peers, regardless of their actual grades.

Researchers at Newcastle University and University of Exeter found that students who over-estimated their own grades tended to be perceived as more talented, and students who under-estimated their grades were seen as less talented, regardless of their actual capabilities. “Our results support the idea that self-deception facilitates the deception of others,” concluded Shakti Lamba and Vivek Nityananda in their study published Wednesday in Plos One. “Overconfident individuals were overrated and underconfident individuals were underrated.”

Because the study was focused on students studying psychology and anthropology, subjects that generally attract more female students, the sample size was female-biased. But while Lamba and Nityananda acknowledged that previous studies have found that men tend to be over-confident and women tend to be under-confident, their research found that gender had no effect on how people perceive self-assured men and women.

The researchers also warned that over-confidence can have more of an effect on individual decisions like picking a mate or hiring for jobs, resulting in self-deceptive and risk-prone people being promoted to powerful roles. “Promoting such individuals we may be creating institutions such as banks, trading floors and armies, that are also more vulnerable to risk,” they wrote.

In other words, even if you’ve made it, you’ll probably keep on faking it.

TIME psychology

Can You Really Predict What Will Make You Happy?

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Here’s what most people think will make them happy, in order of importance:

Via The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain:

A survey of more than 2,015 people conducted by the British research company Ipsos MORI revealed that people believe the following five factors are most likely to enhance happiness (they are listed in order of importance).

1) More time with family
2) Earning double what I do now
3) Better health
4) More time with friends
5) More traveling

Are they right?

Looking at the research, and sticking with just these five options, the order of importance looks more like this:

1) Better health
2) More time with friends
3) More time with family
4) More traveling
5) Earning double what I do now

Health

How people value health varies dramatically based on age, which probably isn’t too much of a surprise. Tali Sharot points out that:

Only 10 percent of respondents from fifteen to twenty-four years old rated better health as one of the top five factors that would make them happy, as opposed to 45 percent of people over seventy-five.

That said, economists value your health as equivalent to an extra $463,170 a year, dwarfing other factors:

Improvement in health has one of the largest effects on life satisfaction; a move from having a very poor health to having an excellent health is worth around an extra £300,000 a year.

A good deal of research lumps friends and family together. Harvard Happiness expert Daniel Gilbert (author of the bestseller Stumbling on Happiness) sums up much of his research by saying:

Family & Friends

We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.

Having a better social life can be worth as much as an additional $131,232 a year in terms of life satisfaction:

I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.

Slumdwellers in Calcutta are much happier than you might expect largely due to relationships.

Travel

Travel, in terms of vacations, provides a modest benefit. (Commuting, on the other hand is devastating to happiness and might even end marriages.)

Money

Money, once you get above a pretty good salary, doesn’t add much happiness:

…people in the US who make $75,000 a year…are just as happy as those who make $150,000. Any higher income is not going to increase emotional well-being, but a lower income is associated with less emotional well-being, Scollon explained.

That said, how you spend money can affect how much it increases happiness. And at the risk of splitting hairs, while money has very little effect on moment to moment happiness, it is associated with being more satisfied with your life when looked at in the big picture.

Why do we get it so wrong?

Looking at Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness my main takeaway was this:

Much of our unhappiness springs from the fact that we’re terrible at accurately remembering how things made us feel in the past, so we make bad choices regarding the future.

In Gilbert’s own words (and backed up by many studies):

We overestimate how happy we will be on our birthdays, we underestimate how happy we will be on Monday mornings, and we make these mundane but erroneous predictions again and again, despite their regular disconfirmation.

Do you dread going to work, going to the gym or to that family gathering? How do you really feel when you finally get there or after? It’s often very different from your prediction. Some things that look like an enormous chore to do in the future are actually very fulfilling in the moment and afterward… like, oh, blogging.

Stop trusting your memory. Write things down.

Does that seem like work?

Well, Gilbert has a great research-backed suggestion that is quick and easy:Look at other people, what they do, and how they react in the moment:

This trio of studies suggests that when people are deprived of the information that imagination requires and are thus forced to use others as surrogates, they make remarkably accurate predictions about their future feelings, which suggests that the best way to predict our feelings tomorrow is to see how others are feeling today.

Want to learn more about what will make you happy? Go here.

TIME Business

Knees Need a Defender: There’s No Excuse for Leaning Back on an Airplane

Passenger With His Knees Against a Sleeping Businessman's Chair on an Aeroplane
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'If you try to move that seat back again I’m going over the top of your chair and strangling you'

Nobody over six feet tall is surprised that a couple of passengers got into a fight on a United flight from Newark to Denver over the use of a gadget called Knee Defender — two small, wedge-like devices that prevent the seat in front of you from reclining. The passenger using the device, a guy seated in a middle row, refused to remove it when the woman seated in front of him tried to recline. Words were exchanged; then a cup of water was hurled aft. The flight was diverted to Chicago, and the two were removed.

Me, I’m with Knee Defender guy.

I don’t travel with a Knee Defender, but I do travel with knees. Just being an airline passengers makes everyone cranky to begin with. Being 6 ft. 2 in. and long of leg, I’m in a near rage by the time I wedge myself into a coach seat. And now you want to jam your chair back into my knees for four hours? Go fly a kite. It’s an airline seat, not a lounge chair. You want comfort, buy a business class seat. What’s surprising is that there haven’t been more fights over Knee Defender. Or perhaps these incidents haven’t been reported. I’ve gotten into it a few times with people in front of me who insist that the space over my knees is theirs, as if they have some kind of air rights. And I’m sure I will again.

United says it has a no Knee Defender policy, although the device is allowable on other carriers. My own knee defense is this: As soon as the seatbelt sign goes off and people are free to annoy me, I wedge my knees against the seat in front of me. Any attempted move back is met with resistance. (Very good exercise, too.) At first, the person in front thinks there’s something wrong with his chair and tries again, meeting like resistance. Then there’s that backward glance, and the dirty look. I smile and say: “Sorry, those are my knees. And I’m not moving them.” Secretly I am saying, “If you try to move that seat back again I’m going over the top of your chair and strangling you.” Did I mention that flying is infuriating?

This has led to some very unfriendly exchanges on the friendly skies of United and elsewhere. And should my adversary, during an unguarded moment, manage to intrude into my space, there’s always the opportunity to resort to 8-year-old mode, accidentally kicking the chair every once in a while. If I’m not going to be comfortable, you’re not.

Yes, it’s not the most civil behavior, but United and other airlines brought this about by treating us like cargo. Consider the situation on Flight 1462. United runs 737s, among the smallest in the Boeing fleet, out of Newark to distant places. It’s four hours to Denver from Newark. The coach seats are 17.3 inches wide. The pitch is 31 inches in Economy and 34 inches in the so-called Economy Plus, where the dueling pair was sitting. Economy Plus used to be called by another name, Economy, until the carriers started adding rows and squeezing the space. This fight started because the guy was trying to work on his laptop. You can’t use a laptop when the seat in front of you is in your lap. And it’s only getting worse when you realize that the proportion of flights longer than two hours that now use commuter jets is growing.

Personally, my policy is to not recline, even if the seat does. I’m trying to respect the space of the passenger behind me. So please respect mine, or be prepared for a bumpy ride.

TIME psychology

The 10 Most Unexpected Ways to Be Happy, Backed By Science

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Girl jumping into the sunshine Olivia Bell Photography—Getty Images/Flickr RF

A user's guide to having it all

1. Embrace opposing feelings, at the same time

Cheerful + Downcast = Happy

Acknowledging the complexity of life may be an especially fruitful path to psychological well-being

The above quote from psychologist Jonathan Adler of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering sums up the idea that happiness can come from noticing and embracing a wide spectrum of emotions—good and bad.

Adler and his colleague Hal Hershfield performed a study on this so-called mixed emotional experience and how it relates to positive, psychological well-being. They monitored participants who went through 12 weekly therapy sessions and who filled out questionnaires before each.

The results: Feeling cheerful and dejected at the same time was a precursor to improved well-being in the following sessions.

For example, someone might say, “I feel sad because of the recent losses in my life, yet I am also happy and encouraged to be working through them for a positive outcome.” According to Adler:

Taking the good and the bad together may detoxify the bad experiences, allowing you to make meaning out of them in a way that supports psychological well-being.

And Hershfield followed up with a another study about mixed emotions and health. After studying participants over a 10-year span, he and his team found a direct correlation with accepting one’s mix of emotions (e.g., “taking the good with the bad”) and good physical health.

We’ve enjoyed sharing among our team about mindful meditation and reflection. This process was even highlighted in a 2012 study by psychologist Shannon Sauer-Zavala of Boston University who found that mindfulness helped participants overcome anxiety disorders by accepting their wide-range of feelings and working toward improvement.

2. Keep your happy friends close, geographically

The sweet spot: a happy mutual friend, living a mile away

The town of Framingham, Massachusetts, was the focus of a multi-generational study on happiness, known as the Framingham Heart Study. Beginning in 1948, the study has tracked three generations of Framingham residents and their offspring to discover trends in the way that happiness moves among a population. A few of their takeaways:

  • Individual happiness cascades through groups of people, like contagion.
  • The more happy people you add to your life, the greater positive effect it will have on you. (This is not true of sadness.)
  • Geographically close friends (and neighbors) have the greatest effect on happiness.

Below is the chart that summarizes this last point about geographic closeness. Basically, researchers broke down the happiness effect based on a participant’s relationship to others (the so-called “alters” in the chart) and their proximity to one another.

The breakdown:

  1. Nearby mutual friends (literally off the charts, the actual probability percentage is 148 percent)
  2. Next-door neighbor
  3. Nearby friend (a person whom the participant named as a friend but the “friend” did not reciprocate the label)
  4. Nearby alter-perceived friend (a person whom the participant did not name as a friend but who claimed to be friends with the participant)
  5. Nearby sibling
  6. Coresident spouse
  7. Distant sibling
  8. Non-coresident spouse
  9. Same block neighbor
  10. Distant friend

Proximity of nearby mutual friends, according to the study, included those who lived with one mile of each other. Others fall into the “distant friend” category.

Is it possible to have mutual friends that close by? I’d love to hear your experience. Personally, it reminds me of the happiness and fun of dorm life, big-city living, and vacationing with friends.

3. Learn something new, even if it’s stressful

Master a new skill—stress now, happiness later

If you are willing to push through a bit of added stress in the short-term, you can experience huge gains in happiness for the long-term.

Learn a new skill. Take on a bit more stress. And research says you’ll be happier on an hourly, daily, and long-term basis.

The gains from this investment in time and energy were documented in a 2009 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. Participants who spent time with activities that increased their competency, met their need for autonomy, or helped them connect with others reported decreased happiness in the moment yet increased happiness on an hourly and daily basis.

The key, according to the study, is to choose the right new skill to master, challenge to undertake, or opportunity to get out of your comfort zone.

The greatest increases are experienced (with) any behavior that a person feels they have chosen, rather than ought to do, and that helps them further their interests and goals

Bigger-happiness-impact-Therapy-or-cash

4. Invest in good counseling

Therapy is 32 times more effective than cash

Can money buy happiness?

Not according to research by psychologist Chris Boyce. At least, not as well as a regularly-scheduled counseling session.

Boyce and his colleagues compared the data sets from thousands of reports on well-being and noted how well-being changed either due to therapy or due to sudden increases in income, like receiving a pay raise or winning the lottery. Basically, do we get more happiness for our buck by paying for therapy or by receiving cash in hand?

The results were incredibly lopsided.

Therapy was 32 times more effective than cash.

It would take a $40,000 raise to equal the benefit from $1,300 worth of therapy.

This study certainly highlights the value of counseling, and it also points to the general benefit of intangible experiences, relationships, and communication over possessions, things, and money. If you’re seeking happiness, never be afraid to question if you’re looking in the right places.

5. Press pause on the breathless pursuit of happiness

Chase happiness at a safe speed

Here’s a cool story about cats.

One day this old alley cat crossed paths with a younger cat who was frantically running around, trying to catch its own tail. The older cat watched carefully for awhile. When the young cat stopped for a breather, the older cat asked, “Would you mind telling me what you are doing?”

The young cat said, “Sure thing! I went to Cat Philosophy School and learned that happiness is in our tails. So I am going to keep chasing my tail and someday I will catch it and get a big bite of happiness.”

The older cat responded, “Well, I have never been to Cat Philosophy School, but I agree: Happiness is in our tails. However, I have found that when I just wander around enjoying life, it follows me everywhere I go.”

This idea of not chasing happiness was highlighted in a 2011 study by Yale psychologist June Gruber and colleagues who found that pursuing happiness may lead to increased expectations that, if gone unmet, would actually have the opposite effect of happiness.

So instead of chasing happiness to the extremes, we may be better off pursuing happiness calmly and rationally. Trying new happiness experiments is a great way to go, so long as you keep expectations in check.

How-to-Say-No

6. Say no to almost everything

Specifically, say “I don’t”

The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything. Warren Buffett

Overworked and overburdened is a recipe for unhappiness. So if you want to be happy, might be some quick wins by saying no!

So then, how should you say it?

Say I don’t.

Believe it or not, the phrase “I don’t” is up eight times more likely to work than saying “I can’t.” It’s more than doubly effective versus the simple “no.”

The Journal of Consumer Research ran a number of studies on this difference in terminology. One of the studies split participants into three groups:

Group 1 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals they should “just say no.” This group was the control group because they were given no specific strategy.

Group 2 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals, they should implement the “can’t” strategy. For example, “I can’t miss my workout today.”

Group 3 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals, they should implement the “don’t” strategy. For example, “I don’t miss workouts.”

And the results:

  • Group 1 (the “just say no” group) had 3 out of 10 members who persisted with their goals for the entire 10 days.
  • Group 2 (the “can’t” group) had 1 out of 10 members who persisted with her goal for the entire 10 days.
  • Group 3 (the “don’t” group) had an incredible 8 out of 10 members who persisted with their goals for the entire 10 days.

Results from this study make a pretty great blueprint on how to say no. I’d love to hear how this works for you if you decide to add this to your happiness toolbox.

7. Celebrate strengths, recognize weakness

Allow yourself permission to be yourself

You’ve perhaps heard the old maxim, “You can be anything you want to be.”Strengths Finder author Tom Rath has an amendment:

You can be a lot more of who you already are.

When we’re able to put most of our energy into developing our natural talents, extraordinary room for growth exists.

Psychologist Paul Pearsall calls this “openture” (his coined phrase for the opposite of “closure”). Pearsall’s desire is that people embrace imperfections and celebrate strengths.

Research has shown that wedging ourselves into places we don’t fit can lead to undesirable results. As an extreme example, a study from Joanne Wood of the Univeristy of Waterloo asked people with low self-esteem to say to themselves “I’m a lovable person,” and at the conclusion of the exercise, participants felt reaffirmed in their low self-esteem rather than empowered to change.

If happiness seems elusive because you feel a need to be someone you aren’t, then the words of Tom Rath should be comforting. Celebrate what you’re good at and appreciate that we all bring unique characteristics to the table.

8. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best

The Samurai approach to happiness

Samurai warriors had two essential elements to performing their best: They trained extremely hard and they prepared for the worst.

The latter element, so-called “negative visualization,” has its roots in Stoicism. Oliver Burkeman wrote a book about counterintuitive happiness, including sections on this idea of Stoic thought. In an interview with writer Eric Barker, Burkeman explained:

It’s what the Stoics call, “the premeditation” — that there’s actually a lot of peace of mind to be gained in thinking carefully and in detail and consciously about how badly things could go. In most situations you’re going to discover that your anxiety or your fears about those situations were exaggerated.

Another benefit of this visualization is that you feel more in control when you have planned for all outcomes. Navy SEALs undergo psychological training so that they feel in control at all times. And according to neuroscience, the brain can continue to function as normal so long as we maintain the illusion of control (via training and visualization).

9. Give up your favorite things

Just for a day or two, not forever (phew!)

Here’s a gem of an idea from Eric Barker, author of the Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog:

Denying yourself something makes you appreciate the things you take for granted.

The scientific elements at play here are self-control and willpower. Researchers who conducted an overview of 83 studies on self-control concluded thatwillpower wanes as the day goes on, yet you can train willpower just as you would a muscle. Exerting self-control leads to more self-control over time.

Harvard professor Michael Norton has a great way of thinking about this:

The idea is that the things that you really like a lot, stop. Stop it. So, if you love, every day, having the same coffee, don’t have it for a few days and, when you wait, and then you have it again, it’s going to be way more amazing than all of the ones that you would have had in the meantime.

The problem with that is, on any given day, it’s better to have a coffee than not, but if you wait three days and don’t have it, it’s going to be way better once you finally do. Interrupting our consumption is free. It actually saves you money and gets you more happiness out of the money spent. It’s like the best of all worlds, but we’re completely unable to do it, because we always want to watch the thing or eat the thing right now. It’s not “give it up forever.” It’s “give it up for short periods of time, and I promise you you’re going to love it even more when you come back to it.”

Think daily coffee, Netflix binging, iPhone games, etc. Find more happiness by practicing patience with the things you love.

10. Keep your daydreams grounded

Expect great things rather than fantasizing about great things

Is there such a thing as a grounded daydream?

Hopefully so. A German research project found that students who fantasized about the future met below average results in their real-life futures. The following occurred with those who fantasized:

  • Put in fewer job applications
  • Received fewer job offers
  • Earned lower salaries
  • Were more likely to struggle academically
  • Failed to ask their crush out on a date

Here’s the chart from the series of studies. The specific explanations can be found in the full report, but generally-speaking positive numbers are good and negative numbers are less so.

 

London School of Economics professor Heather Kappes says, “Wild fantasies dull the will to succeed.” This would appear to be true of the participants in the study.

So instead of wild daydreaming, perhaps it is better to remain grounded, hopeful, and eager to see happiness in one’s future. After all, once you get a vision and idea in mind, it’s difficult to extract it. Social psychologist Dan Wegner even came up with a psychological theory on the topic, dubbed theIronic Processes of Mental Control:

in order to insure that you aren’t thinking about an unwanted idea, you have to continually turn your mind to that very idea. How do you know that you aren’t thinking of a white bear driving a red Ferrari unless you think about whether you’re thinking it?

Maybe you can apply the same to happiness, albeit remaining firmly grounded while doing so.

Over to you

Which of these unexpected happiness hacks ring true to you?

Are there some you agree/disagree with?

I’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments! We’re always eager to find out what works for you and to learn new experiences in living happily.

Image credits: BMJ, PMC

TIME psychology

6 Strategies for Making a Brilliant First Impression in 9 Seconds or Less

You can always ask someone where they’re from, but questions about geography rarely get you very far

As the story goes, my mom and dad, who recently celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary, met at a dance in college. My father introduced himself, saying, “I’m Howard Hogshead from Hudson.”

My mom burst into laughter: “Nobody has the last name Hogshead!!”

Hey, some of us have it lucky when it comes to first impressions.

Even if you don’t have the last name “Hogshead,” you can still make a fascinating first impression and build relationships quickly.

Let’s say you’ve just walked into a big network event. The room buzzes with prospective clients and high-level leaders. You want to introduce yourself… but how?

  1. Find one way to add value to the conversation.

From the moment you meet someone, be asking yourself: “How can I add value to this person?”

What problem is your listener facing and how can you help them overcome it?

You want your listener to come away from the conversation feeling good about their investment of time and energy. What can you contribute to the discussion?

For example, has your team recently learned a new way to connect via conference call, or attract new customers?

If you’re not adding value, you’re just taking up space.

  1. Understand how the world sees you.

Your personality already has certain patterns of communication that shape how people perceive you. Fascinating conversationalists don’t have to be sparkling and witty and charismatic. They have to understand how to build an authentic connection with their listener. You already have this ability. There’s a natural style of communication that defines how people perceive you, and when you apply that in conversation, it’s incredibly effective. My research shows that people are more likely to listen to you, remember you, buy from you and even fall in love with you when you apply your own natural style.

  1. Know your “Anthem.”

Your “Anthem” identifies the perfect words to describe who you are, at your best.

Your Anthem is the tagline for your personality.

Once you know what makes you valuable to others, you’re more authentic and confident and more likely to make a positive impression.

  1. Ask real questions.

When it comes to first impressions, your questions matter more than your answers. The goal is to get away from trite topics, and get on a roll with the other person in which you’re both effortlessly engaged in a subject.

You don’t have to be witty or spontaneous to ask great questions. You do have to listen and be ready to ask real questions.

Let’s say you’re going to a business conference. A few examples of real questions:

  • “What has been the most successful boost to your business in the last year?”
  • “What’s the main thing you want to get out of this conference?”
  • “What’s stressing out your team these days? Have you found any solutions?”

Sure, you can ask where they’re from, but questions about geography rarely get you very far. The less trite, the better.

  1. Consider what people will already be thinking and talking about.

It’s much easier to immediately connect with someone if you already know what they’re already pondering, struggling with or excited about.

Let’s come back to that example of a business conference. What will people be buzzing about at your next conference? Is there an industry-wide issue that your peers face? Is everyone jittery about a concerning trend?

Before you go to your next conference, spend a moment to consider what will already be on everyone’s mind. How can you become part of their current mindset?

  1. Commit to a strong start.

Sometimes, it feels effortful to start a conversation. That’s why people just keep scanning the room and don’t make eye contact.

When introducing yourself, don’t give a half-hearted greeting and wait for the other person to do all the work.

Remember: Every time you introduce yourself, you’re either adding value or taking up space. If you’re not going to commit to a strong start, it’s better to not introduce yourself in the first place. A weak start leads to a weak first impression.

The first moments of an interaction offer your window of opportunity for connection. If you earn your listener’s interest during those 9 seconds, people will be more likely to engage further. If you fail to add some sort of value in that golden window, they’re less likely to listen to what you say, let alone remember you.

Those first defining moments of an interaction deserve a little focus and energy, don’t you think? Bring a sense of purpose to the conversation.

Ultimately, remember: The purpose of a conversation is not to kill time, but to grow a connection.

Take out your conversational watering can and grow more connections.

Sally Hogshead is a Hall of Fame speaker and author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller How the World Sees You.

TIME psychology

These 4 Things Kill Relationships

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Getty Images

John Gottman can listen to a couple for 5 minutes and determine, with 91% accuracy, whether they’ll divorce.

He was featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.

Gottman’s researched marriage for over 40 years and couples that attend his workshops have half the relapse rate that standard therapy provides.

His book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is excellent and rich with information.

In it he debunks a lot of myths about marriage, explains why marriages go bad and what can be done about it.

The Four Horsemen

How can he tell who will split up? There are a number of indicators but at the core of Gottman’s research are ” The Four Horsemen.” These are the four things that indicate a marriage apocalypse is on its way:

  • Criticism – Complaints are fine. Criticism is more global — it attacks the person, not their behavior. They didn’t take out the garbage because they forgot, but because they’re a bad person.
  • Contempt“…name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. In whatever form, contempt – the worst of the four horsemen – is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her.”
  • Defensiveness“…defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying, in effect, ‘The problem isn’t me, it’s you.’ Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, which is why it’s so deadly.”
  • Stonewalling – Tuning out. Disengaging. This doesn’t just remove the person from the conflict, it ends up removing them, emotionally, from the relationship.

What was the biggest insight about marriage?

What surprised me the most? Gottman’s research reveals that major differences of opinion don’t destroy marriages, it’s how a couple deals with them.

69% of a couple’s problems are perpetual. These problems don’t go away yet many couples keep arguing about them year after year:

Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind – but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.

How do good marriages deal with issues that can’t be resolved? They accept one another as-is:

These couples intuitively understand that problems are inevitably part of a relationship, much the way chronic physical ailments are inevitable as you get older. They are like a trick knee, a bad back, an irritable bowel, or tennis elbow. We may not love these problems, but we are able to cope with them, to avoid situations that worsen them, and to develop strategies and routines that help us deal with them. Psychologist Dan Wile said it best in his bookAfter the Honeymoon: “When choosing a long-term partner… you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years.

What makes a marriage flourish?

The book is loaded with powerful information, anecdotes and advice. I’ll cover three useful elements here.

1) Really knowing each other is vital:

…emotionally intelligent couples are intimately familiar with each other’s world… these couples have made plenty of cognitive room for their marriage. They remember the major events in each other’s history, and they keep updating their information as the facts and feelings of their spouse’s world change.

2) When fighting, do your best to avoid using the word you and try to use the word I. This makes it much easier to express feelings and much harder to attack the other person.

3) What’s the most powerful little exercise to improve a marriage? “Reunite at the end of the day and talk about how it went.” The goal is to bleed off stress from the day so it can’t negatively affect your relationship.

A few other interesting bits:

  • “…an unhappy marriage can increase your chances of getting sick by roughly 35% and even shorten your life by an average of four years.”
  • “96% of the time you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the fifteen minute interaction…”
  • “I’ve found 94 percent of the time that couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history are likely to have a happy future as well. When happy memories are distorted, it’s a sign that the marriage needs help.”

There’s too much information in the book for me to really do it justice here.

If the subject is of interest to you, check it out: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

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Related posts:

The Science Of “Happily Ever After”: 3 Things That Keep Love Alive

What are the 5 things that make love last?

What should you look for in a marriage partner?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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