Making Direct Eye Contact
Instead: Avert your gaze. Why: Weâve been told that looking someone in the eye conveys honesty, but if youâre trying to persuade a friend to try, say, skydiving, avert your gaze. In a recent study, researchers used eye-tracking technology to discover that subjects were less influenced by speakers who maintained the most eye contact, which seemed to work only when the audience already agreed with the speaker. âEye contact can signal very different kinds of messages, ranging from attraction and interest to aggression and a desire to intimidate someone,â says lead study author Frances Chen, assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. To predict the reaction, consider your audience and the tenor of the conversation: In friendly situations, eye contact can connect people. In adversarial moments, it could be associated with dominance.
Instagramming Your Life
Instead: Put down the camera. Why: Snapping photos to preserve memories can actually get in the way of experiencing those moments fully and reduce your recall, new research from Fairfield University in Connecticut found. In the study, people in a museum were asked to take note of certain objects, either by photographing them or just observing. The next day, the photo takers were less able to recognize the art pieces theyâd been assigned and had less detailed memories of the works. âItâs as if when we click the button to take the photo, we think, Done, next thing â¦, and donât engage in the kind of processing that would enhance memory,â says lead author Linda Henkel, Fairfield University professor of psychology.
Saying âIâ a Lot
Instead: Include others. Why: You might assume that people who say I have healthy self-esteem. But researchers at the University of Texas at Austin recently did five separate conversation and e-mail studies and found that frequent I users are less sure of themselves than those who use the word infrequently. The explanation: âPronouns [I, you, we â¦] reflect where we are really paying attention,â says study author and University of Texas professor of psychology James Pennebaker. I users may be looking inward â¨because they are self-conscious, insecure, or worried about pleasing people. Instead, more secure folks, who say you more often, direct most of their attention to the outside world and look for positive feedback.
Planning a Healthy Diet
Instead: Commit to a routine. Why: A recent analysis of 50 studies found that thinking too hard about what to eat can undermine your goals. The more we consider our choices, the easier it gets to come up with reasons why we âdeserveâ to stray from our plan, says study author Jessie de Witt Huberts, a doctoral student and psychology researcher at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. âRegarding food and fitness, peopleâs good intentions for the future seem to have a detrimental effect on their eating behavior in the present,â she says. âPeople are more likely to eat unhealthy snacks now if they intend to go to the gym later that day.â What works best? â¨Commit to a routine that easily suits your life (like eating the same healthy breakfast every day or walking home from work) and stick â¨to it, with as little thought or variation as possible.
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Living in the Present
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Instead: Get nostalgic. Why: Conventional wisdom says that you shouldnât dwell in the past. â¨But a study from the University of Southampton in the United â¨Kingdom recently found that feeling nostalgic and reminiscing about long-ago events can increase optimism about the future. How are â¨the past and future related in our minds? Nostalgic memories make us feel more connected to other people, explains lead study author Wing-Yee Cheung: âIn our studies, we found that nostalgia first fostered social connectedness, which subsequently lifted self-esteem, which then heightened optimism.â In other words, when you remember holding hands with the cool kid at that middle school roller rink party, you feel good about the past, better about yourself in the present, and then hopeful about the future.
Making Lemonade Out of Lemons
Instead: Fix the problem. Why: One skill that many happy people have honed is âcognitive â¨reappraisalââthe ability to reframe our thoughts about a situation â¨to help ourselves feel better. This tends to work great in certain â¨scenarios where you have little control over the outcome of the events at hand. However, a recent study found that when itâs applied to situations that can be changed, you can end up feeling more stress and depression. Why? Because it could prevent people from taking action to fix a problem, says Allison Troy, assistant professor of psychology at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Imagine your relationship is on the rocks in part because of your â¨irresponsible spending. If using cognitive reappraisal makes you feel like what youâre doing isnât wrong, you may be less likely to learn to â¨live within your budget. Take self-soothing too far and it could â¨become destructive.
Creating Mood Lighting
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Instead: Go brighter. Why: If you dim the lights to heighten romanceâor boost your attractivenessâyou could be in for a bland evening. Cranking up the lights increases the intensity of any situation and all kinds of emotionsâboth positive and negativeâscientists at the University of Toronto Scarborough and Northwestern University recently found. People participated in a series of different experiments, which included tasting chicken-wing sauces ranked from mild to hot, reacting to negative and positive words, and judging womenâs attractiveness, while in either a brightly or a dimly lit room. Subjects in the brighter room chose spicier sauce, reacted more negatively or positively to the loaded words, and found the women â¨considerably more attractive than did those in the dimmer rooms. â¨Although the precise mechanism isnât known, Alison Jing Xu, assistant professor of management at the University of Toronto Scarborough, says bright light may affect our emotional system because we naturally perceive it as heat, which is known to heighten our emotions.