June 14, 2013
We have all heard that smiles are contagious. Is that really the case?
There have been numerous studies that show that not only does a smile physiologically change your own mood, but it can also alter the mood of those around you.
A smile causes a shift in our brain chemistry that assists us in extending our lifespan by managing stress, reducing pain, lowering our heart rate, reducing blood pressure and acting as a natural anti-depressant.
An article in Psychology Today examines the impact a smile has on our brain.
“Smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress. Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate. They facilitate messaging to the whole body when we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, excited. The feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well”
If this isn’t enough reason to flash those pearly whites, consider the impact a smile has on those around you.
A study published in the journal Neuropsychologia illustrates that “attractive faces produced activation of medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), a region involved in representing stimulus-reward value. Responses in this region were further enhanced by a smiling facial expression…” In layman’s terms, when you view a person smiling, you actually feel rewarded.
This was illustrated through a Swedish study where participants were presented with images that expressed emotions of joy, anger, fear and surprise. Researchers asked subjects to frown when looking at the smiling images. What they found was that the participants’ initial reaction was to mimic the expression they were presented with. It took conscious effort to accommodate the researcher’s request to frown. Very simply put, smiles are contagious.
It was renowned psychologist and author Daniel Goleman Ph.D. who identified why this is.
“A previously unknown class of neurons — mirror neurons — acts like a neural Wi-Fi system, monitoring everything the other person is saying and doing. Mirror neurons appear to let us “simulate” not just other people’s actions, but the intentions and emotions behind those actions. When you see someone smile, for example, your mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, creating a sensation in your own mind of the feeling associated with smiling. You don’t have to think about what the other person intends by smiling. You experience the meaning immediately and effortlessly.”
If you want to positively impact those around you, it isn’t enough to simply crack a smirk. Other studies have also shown that individuals will mimic the type of smile they are presented with.
In our society, we often smile in an effort to be polite whereas genuine smiles happen spontaneously and is an indicator of pleasure. Observational studies demonstrated that strangers, getting to know one another, would always match the type of smile they received. Additionally, they responded more readily to a genuine smile versus a polite smile.
“Similarly, participants in a lab-based study learned key-press associations for genuinely smiling faces faster than those for politely smiling faces. Data from electrical sensors on participants’ faces revealed that they engaged smile-related muscles when they expected a genuine smile to appear but showed no such activity when expecting polite smiles.
The different responses suggest that genuine smiles are more valuable social rewards. Previous research shows that genuine smiles promote positive social interactions, so learning to anticipate them is likely to be a critical social skill.”
So what if you don’t feel like smiling? Fake it until you make it. Research has shown that the act of smiling alone, can stimulate physiological responses that will ultimately turn that forced grin into a genuine smile.
Howstuffworks.com talks about this phenomenon by sharing the work of Robert Zajonc on the emotional effects of smiling.
“His subjects repeated vowel sounds that forced their faces into various expressions. To mimic some of the characteristics of a smile, they made the long “e” sound, which stretches the corners of the mouth outward. Other vowel sounds were also tested, including the long “u,” which forces the mouth into a pouty expression. Subjects reported feeling good after making the long “e” sound, and feeling bad after the long “u.”
The key to happiness (yours and others) may be as simple as a smile. Or as Louis Armstrong would sing: “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”
P.S.There is research that suggests that getting Botox injections might actually make you happier since you can no longer frown. Hmmm….
June 7, 2013
Time is a fixed commodity. We all get to enjoy the same 24 hours a day as everyone else. But for some, this is not enough to do everything they want.
Therefore, whenever I am on the road and I am deciding how to spend my time, I ask, “Is this something I can only do here and now?”
For example, I was recently in San Francisco. In comparison to the temperatures in Boston, the weather was warm enough to enjoy the beach. Therefore I took advantage of this luxury and stayed in a hotel near the ocean.
Conversely, I was in New York City a few days later where the beach wasn’t an attractive option, but it offered other unique opportunities.
By focusing on the things I can only do here and now helps me decide what is the best way to use my time.
A lot of people enjoy activities like dancing at nightclubs. But I know I can go clubbing almost anywhere. Many like to shop when they are on the road, but I can do that anywhere as well (unless it is to buy something unique from that area).
What are the things that you can’t do elsewhere; that you can only do where you are right now?
It might be taking advantage of the weather or your geographic location (unique food options, area-specific landmarks). It might be leveraging the time of year (e.g., special events at Christmas time in New York City). And don’t forget to take advantage of the people around you. (Ok, that last point didn’t sound exactly right, but you know what I mean.) I try to see my friends when on the road, because if I don’t, I won’t see them at all.
Think about each day, even when you were home. What are the things that you can only do right now? What are the things you can only do certain times of year? While this won’t give you more time, it may make the time that you have significantly more valuable.
P.S. This concept applies to innovation too. Many companies try to do everything, and as a result do nothing well. Focus your energies on things you do better than anyone else that create exceptional customer value. Stop doing everything else, and find partners others who can do it better than you.
May 11, 2013
Today’s Friday Fun Fact…
At the end of this month, I will be speaking in Copenhagen at a Happiness at Work Conference. This got me thinking about what it is that makes people truly joyous.
Business Insider gathered some research on this topic and amassed 36 Scientific Facts about happiness, some that may come as a surprise.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- You have to earn 2.5x as much money to be as happy working for someone else as you would be working for yourself: Perhaps that is why Forbes reported that approximately 543,000 new U.S. businesses are started every month. This is one of the reasons I work for myself. If I don’t like my boss, I only have me to blame!
- Greater rewards mean less motivation and poorer performance: “Researchers have found that people are sometimes happier and more effective when they do a task for no money at all than when they receive a small payment. If someone offers a good Samaritan $5 for helping with a flat tire, then he starts thinking about the actual market rate for tire-changing, so a fiver is now insufficient—when a minute ago, he’d have been perfectly content with $0.” I have written about this extensively in the past. See my article, I Won’t Work for Money.
- Happy people are lucky: Lucky people tend to focus on the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse. For example, an individual arrived to an interview with his leg in a cast and mentioned that he had fallen down a flight of stairs. When asked whether he still felt lucky, he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before as he could have broken his neck. This is absolutely how I live, maybe sometime to a fault. I do operate from the belief that everything happens for a reason – I learned this from my father.
- Happiness is not a destination: I will be happy when I’m married, have more money, or move to a new location. This is what we tell ourselves. But the reality is that while these things can contribute to happiness, it is not as much as you may think. According to Web MD, achieving these milestones account for only about 10% of your whole happiness picture. “Lasting happiness has more to do with how you behave and think — things you control — than with many of life’s circumstances.” This is the essence of my Goal-Free Living book.
Other studies show that people with more money are happy. But what is intriguing is that the researchers found that money did not cause happiness. Happiness was the creator of wealth.
What other things make you happy?
April 10, 2013
Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom…
Today I had the honor of seeing my good friend, Ed Gerety, speak to 200 junior high school students. He was amazing.
What I found most interesting was the response from the audience.
I am used to speaking to corporations where the average age is probably 40 – 50. Here the average age was 12 – 13. There is a marked difference between these groups!
When Ed asked the student to do something, 100% participated (well, several of the teachers sat and stared blankly). When he asked them to do something that an adult might think as “silly,” the audience went wild with laughter. When he told moving stories that might generate “crickets” from an adult audience, he received gasps, cheers, and awwwwws from the teenagers. There was an unbelievable energy in the room. Everyone was hungry for Ed’s message.
When did we, as adults, become so jaded? When did we forget how to participate and play in life? When did we decide that “looking good” in front of others was more important than full self-expression? When did we become so arrogant that we know more than everyone else? When did we stop truly learning and living?
I was inspired by these students. I was tempted to call them “kids.” But after spending an hour with them, I realized that they are more adult than many adults.
Today, I encourage you to look at the world through the eyes of a teenager. Play. Laugh. Participate. Clap. Gasp. Show your full range of emotions.
As Ed said during his presentation, tell people you love them. Be thankful, every day, for what you have. Help others. Stand up for yourself.
I’ve attended a lot of seminars and training over the years. But spending 60 minutes with Ed and a couple hundred students was the most valuable education I have received in years.
P.S. I had a similar experience a couple of years ago when working for a large organization. I presented to 400 executives in the morning followed by 200 high school students in the afternoon. The two audiences could not have been more different. I wrote about how to tap into your “inner innovation child” in an American Express OPEN Forum article. You can also read my article “Unleash Your Inner Innovator” (pdf). It appeared in a British Magazine 10 years ago.
February 12, 2013
Here is the transcription of yesterday’s video…
This week I’m going to talk about ways that you can work a heck of a lot less, while having a much better life.
On Wednesday, I’m going to talk about a philosophy that I call the “20/80/80 principle.” It’s a way for extracting the greatest amount of value out of what you’re doing, with the least amount of effort, thus freeing you up to do other things.
Now, if you’re going to use this general mindset of freeing yourself up, you need to recognize that it’s not just about making more money. It’s also about freeing yourself up from the current burdens that you may have in terms of lifestyle, and some of the decisions you’ve made.
Back in 1999, I was living in New Jersey. I had a three-bedroom house. It was a gorgeous place. I had furniture. I had lots of great things. And then I moved to England. When I moved to England, I ended up moving into a fully furnished one-bedroom apartment. Because I was moving across the Atlantic, I didn’t want to bring a lot of things with me, so I really got rid of everything.
Everything that I owned literally fit into two boxes – my clothes, my belongings, anything that I needed. Now, of course, living in a furnished apartment was great, because I didn’t have to worry about furniture, dishes, and things of that nature. But I owned almost nothing.
I discovered back then, that there is this freedom, this liberation, that comes from not having a lot of things and from being able to actually live the simplest life possible. There’s less clutter around you, therefore, there are less things to worry about. And because you’re spending less money, you don’t have to worry about making as much money. It give you freedom.
We often hear the expression, necessity is the mother of invention. The reality is though, that when you work out of necessity, your invention is limited. When you come from a place of freedom where you’re able to start living the life as you want to live, you tap into true creativity.
Therefore, instead of accumulating, what you need to do is start appreciating.
What you want to do is simplify your life. You want to be able to look at how you spend your money. Look at your house. Look at your car. And really ask yourself what would be the benefit of getting rid of them. Or downsizing to the point where you have less clutter and fewer financial obligations.
What you get out of that is more freedom. If you do this, it will then free you up to make completely different decisions with your life: how you choose to live your life and how you choose to work.
I know, for myself, having done this,that it is a liberating experience. By getting rid of things, you actually add to the positivity of your life and to the energy you’re able to create. Because you’re not innovating and creating from a place of need, desperation, or survival. Instead you are innovating from a perspective of freedom, pull, creativity, and passion.
So the first step to this is to really just take a hard look at your life and where you’re spending your money and what you have. And then ask yourself, “What do I really, truly need?” Once you do this, you can move onto the next step (which we’ll talk about Wednesday), which is a process and philosophy for being able to, not just free up your belongings, but free up your time.
When you free up your lifestyle and everything around you, and you free up your time, you then have this incredible freedom to truly create extraordinary things.