This year, give the most inexpensive and yet most precious gift there is: YOU. You may not think much of yourself as a gift and may not even feel you have much to give. However, research suggests this is not so. You are sitting on a treasure trove. Here's how to capitalize on it:
Connect, with anyone, with everyone, in any small way. As Therese de Lisieux wrote, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” Social connection is critical for health and well-being. People are feeling more and more isolated, living farther away from each other than ever before, and loneliness is a leading reason people seek therapy. Research shows that one in four Americans has no one they feel close enough with to share personal matters! While lack of social connection can have health consequences as severe as obesity and smoking, the good news is that social connection increases psychological and physical health and even lengthens our life! We are born to connect and we thrive when we connect. For this reason, it is always worth it to be there for others in any small way. From the cashier at your grocery store to your grandmother, connection is always possible from your end. (For more on social connection to thrive, see this post)
Smile, Touch, Resonate
We have a natural in-built system to resonate with each other. When we see someone doing something, we internally "mirror" or "mimic" with them. If you smile, you make my smiling "micro muscles" go to work. I may feel better for no reason. This process is called resonance. We have an in-built system or sounding board that is acutely sensitive to others. Reach out and, from your side, create positive resonance with others. We are deeply connected at a visceral level. (For more details on resonance, see this post). In relationships, physical affection is one of the highest predictors of long-term love. We know that hugs release oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone" connected to bonding and long-term love and well-being. (For more details, see this post).
Be Authentic and Vulnerable
Research shows that being vulnerable, however scary that may sound, may be the greatest gift you give to yourself and others. We often go about protecting ourselves and building walls around us. We don't show others our fears or insecurities. We try to put on a show or facade to look perfect, or act right, or be tough. Research shows, however, that true connection and intimacy with others comes from a willingness to be vulnerable. We are all only human with our weaknesses and insecurities, our fears and neediness. It is through this common human vulnerability that we can connect with others in the deepest way. Although vulnerability takes courage, it is also most beautiful gift you can give to yourself and others. (For more on vulnerability, see this post.)
How often have you been in conversation in which you were truly listened to? Oftentimes, people are playing with their phone, obviously pre-occupied with their own thoughts, bursting at the seams to interject or interrupt with a story of their own, or simply so distracted or disinterested that their eyes are darting around elsewhere? It happens all too often. A simple gift to give anyone is to be there with that person 100%. Listen to someone attentively without interrupting, take in their perspective fully, allow them to express themselves, and just get yourself out of the way for awhile. You will be amazed at what you learn and this may be the first time anyone has listened to them in such a profound and respectful way.
Research shows that 3 times more positive things happen to us than negative things every day yet it is so common for us to focus on the negative. We have an in-built tendency to remember and dwell on negative things that happen and we get used to the positive things in our lives. As a consequence, we often make a mountain out of a molehill and forget to celebrate the multitude of gifts we are given every day. Gratitude is a solution to those tendencies and it has been linked to countless benefits including increased social connection and well-being and even improved health and optimism. Gratitude helps us thrive, be strong, and resilient. (For more on gratitude, see this post)
While some people think happiness is a selfish endeavor, it may just be the most unselfish thing you can do! Research shows that our well-being impacts those around us up to 3 degrees of separation away from us. By taking good care of yourself, doing things you love, and being happy, you are making those around you happier, and the friends of friends of those around you happier too! In your pursuit of happiness, don't forget its biggest secret: being of service to others (for more on that precious secret, see this post)
To truly be happy, drop your self-criticism and judgment. Instead, chose self-compassion: treat yourself like you would a friend with gentleness and understanding. When things get challenging, develop a broader perspective of the situation you are in. And, finally, remember to breathe and meditate, holding your thoughts and emotions in awareness without over identifying with them. Use your in-built system of internal awareness to help you relax and increase mindfulness (see this post). Research shows that self-compassion leads to greater success, productivity, well-being and openness to challenge and adventure. How's that for good news? (for more on self-compassion, see this post)
To stay updated on the science of happiness, health and social connection, see www.emmaseppala.com. Watch Emma's TEDx talk for a great summary of her work.
Follow Emma on Twitter
Subscribe to Emma on Facebook
Circle Emma on Google+
© 2012 Emma Seppala, Ph.D.