World Happiness Report is out, with a surprising picture of global resilience

World Happiness Report is out, with a surprising picture of global resilience

In a conclusion that even surprised its editors, the 2021 World Happiness Report found that, amid global hardship, self-reported life satisfaction across 95 countries on average remained steady in 2020 from the previous year. The United States saw the same trend — despite societal tumult that yielded a national drop in positive emotions and a rise in negative ones. The country fell one spot, to 19th, in the annual rankings of the report, which was released Saturday.

The report is good news regarding global resilience, experts say.

“I don’t want to leave an impression that all was well, because it’s not,” said one of the report’s editors, Jeffrey Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia University. But while the use of national averages masks individual well-being disparities, Sachs said, the data suggests that “people have not thrown up their hands about their lives.”

The pandemic proves we all should know ‘psychological first aid.’ Here are the basics.

The happiness report relies on the Gallup World Poll, which asks respondents to rate their current life satisfaction on a zero-to-10 “ladder” scale, with a 10 representing “the best possible life for you.” It’s a “longer view” of happiness, as Sachs put it, and its steadiness aligns with what other U.S. Gallup polling and some European polling has found during the pandemic.

In late March to early April of 2020, at the beginning of pandemic restrictions, 58.2 percent of U.S. respondents rated their current life satisfaction as a 7 or above, Gallup found.

While the number of Americans reporting anxiety and depressive symptoms rose sharply over the course of 2020, that satisfaction number stayed fairly even through December, according to the report, even after further covid-19 restrictions, pandemic surges, protests over racial injustices and politics, and a divisive presidential election.

All the while, Americans’ expected future happiness remained high: In five surveys since the pandemic began, between 65.8 and 69.2 percent of respondents said they expected their life satisfaction to be an 8 or above five years into the future, higher than before the pandemic. That suggests an optimism for the future that Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California at Riverside, says is “really, really adaptive.”

“We have the most massive changes in social behavior we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes happen during this pandemic,” said Lyubomirsky, author of books such as “The Myths of Happiness” and “The How of Happiness.” “And so I would have expected much, much bigger declines in well-being. And we do not see that.”

Covid brought ‘manifestation’ back. But you can’t simply will your way to a better life.

It’s not so much that people are doing precisely as well as they were before, experts explain, as that many have adapted to their new situations in ways that might have roughly evened out their well-being. “One of the quotes we use is ‘You aren’t traveling the world, but you’re more likely to have met your neighbors this year,’ ” said John Helliwell, another editor of the report and a professor emeritus of economics at the University of British Columbia.

Stressors such as those we’ve experienced this year can encourage people to craft a different, big-picture concept of happiness. And this, psychologists say, can improve resilience. You’ve already likely taken the opportunity to examine your own big picture this past year, but, if you’ve been having difficulty, and because we’re not done with this pandemic, here are some strategies to help.

Look for awe-inducing experiences

When the rover Perseverance touched down on Mars on Feb. 18, Ethan Kross, a professor and director of the Emotion and Self-Control Lab at the University of Michigan, felt something powerful: awe.

“When you experience awe, that’s an emotion we have when you’re in the presence of something that’s vast and hard to explain,” said Kross, the recent author of “Chatter.” “Like, I don’t know how the hell we figured out how to land on another planet, right? But it fills me with awe.”

The landing, he recalled, reminded him of life’s bigger (in this case, interplanetarily massive) picture. “What science has shown is that when you experience awe, that leads to a ‘shrinking of the self,’ ” Kross explained. “So our own problems feel smaller by comparison.” Perseverance, it seems, helped him summon the same.

You can also find awe stopping at a scenic overlook, watching a sunset or seeing a 1-year-old figure out how to take their first, hesitant steps. A 2018 study, published in the journal Emotion, sent students and military veterans on a whitewater-rafting trip and asked them to record their experiences of six different positive emotions after each day on the river. The extent to which the rafters felt awe, researchers found, most predicted changes in their well-being and stress symptoms a week later.

Seek social support, and give it

It’s no surprise that, according to this year’s happiness report, “the ability to count on others” was a “major” support to life evaluations in 2020.

“Social support is by far one of the best ways to help people cope with any kind of adversity or stress or tragedy,” Lyubomirsky said, and it’s been crucial during the pandemic: drive-by birthdays, neighbors helping the elderly, regular Zoom or FaceTime check-ins with friends.

But communing with others also expands our perspective. And if we’re facing a problem, or getting down on ourselves, those who know us well often see things we don’t.

“Other people can be really excellent sources of feedback for our superpowers and our strength,” said Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist and author of “Insight.”

Helping others can take you outside of yourself and help you, too: The global “happiness effects” of generosity increased last year, the report found, and making a donation correlated with higher life satisfaction and positive affect. That finding tracks with a number of studies that testify to the well-being boosts of acts of kindness and volunteering.

Give yourself some (psychological) distance

Psychological distancing refers to “kind of a perspective broadening,” Kross explained. After gaining some distance from a stressor, he said, we’re often better equipped to reengage.

One version is linguistic distancing, a technique that involves analyzing your situation from a third-person perspective, like a close friend would, and activating self-compassion. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General found that “participants who showed greater linguistic distancing were more successful [emotional] regulators.”

“You go on a date, it doesn’t go well, and you have all these negative thoughts like, ‘Oh, it was because I wasn’t attractive enough, or I was not interesting enough.’ A friend would never say that to you, right?” Lyubomirsky said. “It’s partly they’re being kind, but partly it’s a little bit objective. When we’re immersed in our own problems and wallowing in our negative thoughts, we’re not taking that big-picture perspective.”

During the pandemic, Kross has been recommending and himself practicing a second version: temporal distancing, which involves imagining how you’ll feel about a current stressor sometime off in the future, perhaps a year from now, after it’s passed.

Reappraise, and look for meaning

“Humans are meaning-making machines,” Eurich said, and finding personally relevant positive meaning in trying experiences — a technique known as positive reappraisal — can broaden and boost your outlook. A 2015 review of studies on older adults showed that positive reappraisal is “an adaptive coping strategy for older adults with wide-ranging benefits,” including for physical health.

Eurich recommended reflecting on questions like “What are the strengths or insights that I showed up with in facing the situation?” or “What have I learned about myself or about my most important relationships?” and considering how, amid a trying experience, you might be helping your future self. Reflecting on such questions, she said, can reveal growth or benefits the person hadn’t considered, even if it “doesn’t change its negative reality.” A new appraisal is a step toward tweaking your broader narrative.

“The best individual levels of psychological resilience come when we take a really horrible event like a car crash or the death of a loved one [and] turn that into a story of, ‘You know, this really bad thing happened. It was really hard. And I got through it, and here’s what I did to get out of it,’ ” said Daniel Aldrich, director of the Security and Resilience Studies program at Northeastern University. “As opposed to saying, ‘I’m still that person stuck in my house’ or ‘I’m still the person anxious about getting my parents sick.’ It’s hard to maintain that narrative and feel like I’m moving forward.”

Of course, changing one’s narrative isn’t easy, and it might not always be feasible.

But Kross, for his part, is welcoming a possible alternate narrative now on pandemic resilience.

“The discourse right now is so much on the negative side of things, and for very good reason,” he said. “. . . But I do think that [this is] a story about hope.” Without dismissing the United States’ very real suffering, he said, “you’re seeing evidence of a society that is not crumbling.”


Holding a partner’s hand while processing painful memories can weaken the lasting effects of emotional pain

Holding a partner’s hand while processing painful memories can weaken the lasting effects of emotional pain

Consoling touch helps facilitate the processing of painful memories, according to findings published in PLOS One. The study found that while handholding does not immediately reduce emotional pain, it appears to reduce the experience of prolonged distress.

Emotional pain is commonly experienced and often has a more profound impact on the sufferer than physical pain. Such psychological pain lies at the heart of various mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thinking. Social support such as sharing one’s feelings with loved ones is said to facilitate the processing of emotional pain, but researchers Razia S. Sahi and her colleagues say there may be more subtle ways to secure comfort from others — like consoling touch.

“Consoling touch is a powerful form of social support across cultures and species, but we still don’t have a complete picture of how touch shapes experiences of emotional pain, like the experience of loss,” said Sahi, a doctoral student and member of the Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab at UCLA.

“We wanted to better understand this phenomenon in terms of how touch affects subjective feelings of emotional pain and comfort, and to see whether it has any potential lasting effects on the way that people process autobiographical emotional pain.”

Research has already documented the alleviating effects of touch when it comes to physical pain, but the field has yet to determine whether touch can similarly reduce emotional pain. A research team led by Sahi aimed to explore whether holding a romantic partner’s hand while processing a painful memory would be associated with a less distressing experience.

The researchers recruited a sample of 60 university-age couples who had been together for an average of 7 months. Within each couple, one partner was assigned to be the storyteller and the other was assigned to be the listener.

At an initial lab session, the storytellers related 4-5 stories from their past alone in a room while in front of a video camera. Two of the stories were neutral, and 2-3 stories were emotional (e.g., involving betrayal, loss). After recounting each experience, the storytellers gave ratings from 1 to 10 for how hurt, sad, angry, or emotional they felt, and how much pain, or stress/anxiety they felt. These ratings were averaged into a single measure denoting their emotional pain during the task.

A week later, both partners returned to the lab for session 2. Here, each couple watched the recordings of 2 neutral and 2 negative videos that were recorded by the storyteller at the first session. Importantly, during the watching of each video, the couples were instructed to either hold hands or to squeeze a stress ball. Following each video, the storytellers completed the same assessments as the first session to describe their emotional pain during the task, and a new measure of how comforted they felt by their partner during the task.

Interestingly, the researchers found no significant differences between the levels of emotional pain reported by storytellers during the handholding condition versus the stress ball condition (after controlling for the emotional pain at first recall). In other words, holding a partner’s hand did not appear to reduce the immediate emotional pain felt by storytellers while watching the distressing videos. It did, however, lead to increased feelings of comfort.

Interestingly, handholding did appear to have a diminishing effect on emotional pain in the long term. Between 1 and 7 months after the lab sessions, the storytellers completed an additional survey where they were reminded of the emotional memories they had shared and were asked to rate how much emotional pain they had experienced at the time of the event and how much emotional pain they felt now when recalling the event.

At this follow-up survey, storytellers reported less emotional pain associated with the memory that had been processed while holding their partner’s hand, compared to the memory they had processed while holding a stress ball. The researchers suggest that consoling touch from a partner may have created a feeling of safety that reduced the painful feelings associated with the negative memory. Overall, the authors say their findings suggest that while consoling touch can assuage both physical and emotional pain, the processes through which this happens are somewhat different.

“The main take-away is that while touch provides a source of comfort during emotional pain, it may not actually reduce immediate subjective emotional pain related to personally significant events, in the same way that it has been shown to reduce subjective reports of physical pain,” Sahi told PsyPost.

“This could be a good thing, since, unlike physical pain, emotional pain may need to be processed and experienced in order to be adaptively regulated over time. Indeed, this idea may help explain our finding that touch reduced lasting emotional pain associated with autobiographical memories, but not immediate pain.”

“These results are somewhat surprising and further research is needed in order for us to have a clearer sense of what is happening during the provision of social support via consoling touch in emotional contexts,” Sahi added.

The study, “The comfort in touch: Immediate and lasting effects of handholding on emotional pain”, was authored by Razia S. Sahi, Macrina C. Dieffenbach, Siyan Gan, Maya Lee, Laura I. Hazlett, Shannon M. Burns, Matthew D. Lieberman, Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory, and Naomi Eisenberger.


Why ambiverts are better leaders

Why ambiverts are better leaders

Blending both extrovert and introvert personality types can make you indispensable in the office – and finding that balance is a skill we can all master.

It’s like asking someone if they’re a cat person or a dog person – so basic, almost tribal: are you an extrovert or an introvert?

Each of these identities has its own strengths and weaknesses, yet it seems there’s constant debate about which it is better to be. Some say the internet has a “love affair” with introverts, and that being an introvert is, at long last, cool, particularly during the pandemic. That’s likely a reaction to a culture that has long seemed to celebrate and reward extroverts, especially in many Western countries and particularly in the workforce, where they’re able to use their natural people skills. Complicating things further, some research has shown that introverts can outshine extroverts as leaders, despite the fact that the confident demeanour of an extrovert fits many people’s image of a typical CEO.

So, which is it? Who has more of an edge, and who’s more successful at work: bubbly, outgoing workers; or reserved, restrained ones? The answer, it turns out, is those who can be both: the chameleon-like ambivert.

Blending the best of both personality types can make you indispensable in the office, experts say. And although acting like both extrovert and introvert might feel tricky at times, it’s a skill we can all master, with a little practice.

The ‘ambivert advantage’

Adam Grant, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, coined the term ‘the ambivert advantage’ in a 2013 study that challenged notions of extroverts being more successful and productive in a sales environment. After studying 340 call-centre employees, Grant found that the workers who made the most sales revenue were those who fell in the middle of the extroversion scale. In fact, the results made a bell curve: the worst performers were the workers who were either extremely introverted, or extremely extroverted.

“Because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale,” Grant writes in the study. But ambiverts are also “more inclined to listen to customers’ interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident”.

Karl Moore, an associate professor of management at McGill University and associate fellow at Oxford University, who has studied ambiverts for years, estimates that 40% of top business leaders are extroverts, 40% are introverts and 20% are “true ambiverts”, based on interviews with 350 C-suite executives. But he believes that the unprecedented circumstances created by the pandemic have forced leaders of all stripes to try and act more like ambiverts.

In his upcoming book, We Are All Ambiverts Now, Moore says that the situation we were all thrust into required more leaders to call upon the strengths of both extroversion and introversion. For example, bosses needed to listen and take feedback in order to provide flexible and empathetic work environments for staff, but they also needed to broadcast clear and demonstrative enthusiasm to rally and guide the team into the unknown.

“What [the pandemic] means is that the CEO needs to listen a lot – a great leader is a great listener,” says Moore. “But [they] also need to be able to give the inspiring ‘guys, I am confident we can make it through this crisis’.”

‘Adapt to what’s necessary’

So, whether it’s sales figures or muddling through a once-in-a-century catastrophe, it’s good to be an ambivert. But how do you become one?Actually, say the experts, it’s very doable. Most of the popular personality tests will place you on a sliding scale of extroversion anyway, so ambiversion is likely within your grasp.

“It’s more about adaptive leadership style” than about thinking you need to re-haul your entire personality, says Alisa Cohn, a start-up and CEO coach based in New York City. “I think it’s less about working on your [perceived] weaknesses than it is about building up your ability to push yourself outside your comfort zone.”

It’s not just CEOs who benefit from ambiversion either, she says. In fact, the earlier in your career you build these skills, the better, since “the benefits will improve over time”. For people who identify as extroverts, this may mean being consciously quieter in meetings; for introverts, it may mean contributing more in meetings.

“It might be a specific behaviour: to listen longer or to ask another question and listen to the answer. To be more extroverted, it might be to initiate conversation or make small talk,” says Cohn. “I like the idea of practising the behaviour three, four, five times a day in little micro doses so you can do that a lot more easily without getting exhausted. And then score yourself.” Keep track of how often you do these things each day, and if you met your goal.

She also recommends spotting a role model you admire in your office who has the introvert or extrovert qualities you’re looking to emulate, so you can watch their behaviour and model yours on them.

Moore talks about working with an introverted CEO, Claude Mongeau, the former chief executive of Canadian National Railway, for his research. He says Mongeau worked with a leadership coach who gave him a clicker – like the one a bouncer outside a nightclub uses to count patrons – to keep track of every extroverted skill he practised each day. These were small things, like saying hello to someone or commenting on the weather. Moore says he was still very much an introvert, but realised to be an effective CEO, he had to channel his extroverted side.

Moore, an extrovert himself, says that channelling his inner ambivert has helped him in his own career, both as a researcher and for his radio show, in which he interviews CEOs. “On my radio show, 98% of the time I’m quiet, because I’m asking [the guest] a question, ‘Where are you from, what does your family do?’.”

Being an ambivert means being aware of your own natural social style, and knowing when the situation may call for just the opposite: “The most successful leaders are the ones who can recognise a situation and adapt their style as necessary,” says Cohn.

Avoiding the mental toll

The only downside is that this adaptation can wear you down. “You need to act like both. The problem is, it’s exhausting,” says Moore.

But remember, being an extrovert or an introvert comes down to how you are energised – either from the outside world or your internal one. So, when you try to go against natural preferences, it uses more “mental calories”, says Cohn, and it’s important to refill that mental energy tank.

For introverts, that might mean a solitary afternoon at home with a book or if you’re at work, a 15-minute break outside alone on a bench. For extroverts, it might mean surrounding yourself with people. Moore says his preferred ‘extrovert break’ when he’s on business is to find a restaurant and sit at the bar for dinner, so he can talk to other patrons. “It stimulates me. It gets my dopamine levels going, because I’m with people.”

It’s important to reiterate that few people are 100% one or the other. But becoming an ambivert is something more active; it’s deciding which switch to flip, and when. Sharpening that skill could mean all the difference – not just for you, but for the people you work with, too.

Cohn says one of her clients, an introverted manager, worked hard to strengthen his extroverted side by talking more in meetings, and responding more enthusiastically with confirming gestures like nodding. The result? His team “felt like there was more harmony in the meeting”, says Cohn. “It made them feel more important and empowered.”

“It wasn’t about him,” she says. “It was about other people feeling heard, feeling met.”


Rebound therapy: The zero-gravity exercise that gets children screaming ‘more’

Rebound therapy: The zero-gravity exercise that gets children screaming 'more'

Trampolines can be a fun way to blow off steam. But for those with physical and learning difficulties they can also offer a gravity-free way to exercise and improve communication skills, as Daniel Hall explores.

The ambient lighting changes from green to purple and music plays as children bounce up and down. They scream with delight and smile as a parachute is lowered over their heads.

This is the Rob Armstrong Rebound Therapy Centre at Hadrian School in Newcastle upon Tyne.

And while trampolines might just seem like a fun piece of gym equipment, their vibrations can actually provide a vital form of therapy and exercise.

The combination of the movement of the ‘bed’ or webbing, combined with zero-gravity mid-bounce allow for exercises that can improve muscle and bone strength while enhancing movement patterns. It can also help students get used to changing direction, engaging with the environment around them and help to relax their muscles.

“Rebound is good fun. It makes me laugh and I have a happy time. My favourite game is Jelly on a Plate,” says Joe, 10, who has therapy once a week.

The game sees instructors bounce the webbing of the large gymnastic trampoline while Joe tries to stay on his feet to help improve his balance.

Therapist Rob Oglethorpe says: “Rebound therapy has a lot of benefits for profoundly disabled children. It can lower or raise muscle tone, build up muscle memory, and even fatigue children.

“There’s a big sensory aspect to rebound therapy. At the highest point of a bounce, students are completely weightless and are able to focus entirely on their own bodies, rather than being overstimulated by everything else around them.”

The school itself caters for children with a range of complex special and educational needs and rebound sessions involve most of the teaching staff – from occupational therapists to speech and language therapists.

Oglethorpe says: “Lots of kids won’t talk or sign before going on the trampoline. However, there are loads of methods of communication.

“Some children will build up a vocabulary of symbols over time, while others will use signs if they’re non-verbal.

“When children are excited and feeling enthusiastic, they communicate to demand more bounces, but the idea is that over time the users’ communication methods or pathways build up and transfer to other environments, such as back in the classroom.”

A word in all bouncers vocabularies is “more”. As the teachers bring the trampoline to a stop and ask: “Do you want more?” They are met with screams of delight – and a non-verbal student signals “yes” by hitting the trampoline.

George, not his real name, says the therapy has given him a “hugely changed child” whose health has improved because of it.

He says: “Their face explodes in a smile when they’re on the trampoline. They have got so much more strength, they completely enjoy it, so they engage with school really well.

“Rebound is very supportive emotionally too. It gets you emotionally engaged and builds up trusting relationships with adults.”

The centre has a ceiling hoist, the largest of its kind in the world according to the manufacturers, which means wheelchair-users can be picked up and lowered onto any of the trampolines.

“In previous schools, a manual hoist was wheeled out and our child could only be put on the edge of the trampoline. Now, they can go on any of the trampolines,” George says.

The therapy continues once the student has finished bouncing. The area surrounding the trampolines has physical equipment which rolls, rocks, swings, and vibrates, in order to meet the children’s sensory needs before they return to the classroom.

Abbie Clelland, 19, attends weekly community sessions.

Her mother, Debbie, says: “Rebound makes Abbie focus and concentrate. It’s when we get contact and vocalisation, which is a major step for her. I’ve always wanted her to do physical activity and exercise, and it is lovely to see it making her so happy. She’s a giggler!”

Hadrian School has started to offer advice to other schools about how they might use trampolines for therapy, which the NHS also offers. And Rollings and Oglethorpe are also collaborating on a book about it.

The school also hopes to build a hydrotherapy pool adjacent to the rebound centre.

Headteacher Chris Rollings, who has been a rebound specialist for 40 years, says: “The big issue is that when our young people get to 19, the support in the specialist sector stops.

“We’ve made the rebound centre accessible to the whole community after hours, and we hope to do the same with the hydrotherapy pool.

“Hopefully, it’ll become a disability centre for the northeast.”


Why Introverts Can Be the Best Public Speakers

Why Introverts Can Be the Best Public Speakers

I once listened to a podcast where the guest was said to be an expert on public speaking

“What is the single most important thing for being an amazing public speaker?” the host asked.

“Theatricality,” the guest expert said.

The guest then elaborated on how important it was to use dramatization to convey the emotional richness of what is being said on stage.

I was driving in my car when I was listening to this conversation, and as I made a left turn onto a busy city street I was struck by how adamant and confident the guest was in her answer.

But I was struck by something else as well.

This public speaking expert was wrong.

Dead wrong.

Yes, theatricality is indeed a valuable tool in one’s speaking.

I’m fond of being particularly theatrical in my own speaking, don’t get me wrong. My childhood love of Monty Python means that I’ll look for any excuse to do my terrible impression of a British accent.

But theatricality is not the most important thing.

And it’s not even necessary.

You’ll notice that, like that speaking expert, I too am being adamant and confident in my position.

But my fervor stems from the heartbreak I feel when I have conversations with those who are considering becoming public speakers but resist the possibility – because they’re introverts.

Indeed, there are many folks who see the value in putting themselves out there as speakers because of the trust and authority it’s possible to earn from giving a compelling presentation.

Speaking leads to many rewards, like the opportunity to spread the word about their expertise, and even more tangible outcomes like clients.

But they hold back from doing anything about it because they don’t think they belong on stage.

They hear someone say “theatricality” and rule themselves out because, well, they’re introverts.

The introvert’s public speaking dilemma

It’s understandable why an introvert might be reluctant to put themselves on stage. They see loud, larger-than-life speakers show up on big stages in front of thousands of people and compare themselves unfavorably.

Why would anyone want to listen to me when that guy over there is so warm and boisterous? they might ask themselves.

And when they hear of how important theatricality is, they’re pretty sure speaking is a non-starter for them.

I’ve known so many introverts who come up with some of the most brilliant insights when they’re left in the solitude they crave. These are the kinds of insights that would be a slam-dunk when matched with the gravity and authority that comes from delivering those insights to hundreds or thousands of people at a time.

I’ve had discovery calls with folks who were considering delving into the act of speaking, but are apprehensive because they’re introverts and don’t think they have the personality for it.

One particular call comes to mind, in that I spoke with a lovely man who as about as mild-mannered as anyone I’d encountered in my line of work.

He had an upcoming presentation to give at a trade conference for his industry: agricultural efficiency. It is such a niche field that it was one of the only conferences in town. But if it went well, he would not only attract some clients but would be able to better position his company as an authority in the industry.

But based on the apprehension he stated in the call, and the shy and subdued way he said it, I knew that getting up and speaking in front of others wasn’t at the top of the list of things he wanted to do in life.

Being an introvert, he was confronted with the possibility that his was not a personality suited to the task.

The larger myth among public speaking experts

This is only conjecture, of course, but I imagine if the gentleman in agricultural efficiency had instead taken advice from someone who valued theatricality above all else, he either would have shied away from even working on his presentation or, in an effort to be more theatrical, he would have looked a bit like Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off trying to do Shakespeare.

At least, that’s what I’ve seen happen with other introverts when they’re told to embrace bolder presentation styles.

There are numerous public speaking experts out there who agree with the person I heard on that podcast who said that theatricality is the most important quality for a speaker. Still there are others who are quite evangelical about making the speaker’s personal story their most central and therefore most important asset. Others state how it’s all about one’s presence on stage or even how much they directly engage with the audience with interactive experiences.

But once again, these assumptions are wrong.

There is a larger theme in these ideas, which is the common flaw. Those who tout these directives of basing a talk on how theatrical the speaker is, how poignant their personal story is, or how much interaction they build into their presentation are all perpetuating the idea that the speech someone gives is only as successful as the speaker’s ability to give it.

But when my mild-mannered prospective client became my actual client, we put together a presentation that he gave at the conference. As a result, several highly qualified leads asked him to come visit them about providing his company’s services.

The reason they invited him out to pitch his services wasn’t because of his theatricality, his personal story, or any sort of interactive tools.

It was because of something else.

A speaker’s most important asset

The talk we put together for my agriculture client did indeed have stories. But it also had the types of things that many speakers and experts rail against. It had charts. It had bullet points on slides instead of just pictures.

It also had a central, key takeaway that could be summed up in as little as a sentence. He was able to boil the entire presentation down to a single, light bulb moment that helped the audience to have a collective epiphany – to understand how to solve their problems with agricultural efficiency in a way that didn’t seem possible twenty minutes earlier.

But still, not a single one of these ingredients is absolutely critical to the kind of speech that will make someone a successful public speaker – and it’s a big deal that I’m saying that, as I’m quite passionate about the value of a central takeaway.

Ultimately, the reason he got such warm leads from his presentation wasn’t because of the qualities he possessed as a speaker or the specific ingredients that he featured.

It was because of how empowered his audience to make positive change in relation to the problems they were facing.

In their world of agriculture and farming, they were struggling with rising costs of resources. They had to navigate what was often a complicated subsidization model with the government. They had to negotiate the increased demand for an organic classification but an expectation from the marketplace to pay similar prices to that of conventional produce.

The reason why those folks came up to him was because they believed my client could solve those problems.

It turns out that a public speaker’s most important asset isn’t their theatricality, their story, or how extroverted and boisterous they are.

It’s their capacity to help their audience to believe that change is possible.

Our return to how things once were

A number of my speaker clients have reported back that they’re doing very good (and even well-paid) work presenting virtually as we work our way through the pandemic.

There are even some folks who are once again getting invited into hybrid models of presenting wherein they’re flown to another city and are presenting to a few people live but primarily are presenting to virtual audiences as well.

But as vaccinations and herd immunity become more of a reality in the coming months, there will be a rush of activity for people to re-position themselves in an industry that has otherwise been devastated.

This means that never has it been more important to get clear on the value you can deliver, and value doesn’t come from being the most boisterous, extroverted speaker out there.

Value comes from getting clear on how your expertise can empower others to live a better life than they have since this calamity began and beyond.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re theatrical, subdued, aggressive, or heartfelt – as long as the audience member is compelled to take positive and meaningful action in response.

The value of our speech isn’t based on what we say on stage, but rather what our audience does once we’re done saying it.

Introverts will make the best speakers not when they change their personalities but when they take the insights that have grown from a lifetime of productive solitude and show their audience how these ideas can help them to live a better life.

They merely need to convince their audiences that getting from point A to point B is possible.

A speaker in crisis

A handful of years ago, I was volunteering at a children’s hospital for a program that gifts books to children and reads to them bedside. The director of the program came into our main reading room all flustered because she had a 10-minute presentation to give later that day. I understood why she was in distress; she had previously described to me how glazed over people usually looked when she presented on the program.

Plus, she was an introvert. She wanted to be there as little as her audiences did.

I took her aside and asked her if she wanted some help. She said yes.

We then spoke for only two minutes, simply rearranging a few elements of what she usually said.

When I saw her later that day and asked her how it went, she told me that, upon her starting her talk, it was so deathly quiet that, yes, you could hear the pin drop. She then described how, at the end of the presentation, while people usually just politely clapped, this time they lined up with business cards and even invited her to apply for a grant.

My supervisor didn’t become an extrovert in two minutes. And she didn’t suddenly become theatrical, either. By rearranging her talk we simply took the audience from the painful thought of children staying at a hospital to the possibility of these kids feeling minimally feeling better because of books being incorporated into their hospital stay.

And when the audience saw this change as possible, they rushed to the director with interest.

So I call on you to put aside commonly held beliefs about what it takes to be an effective speaker. It’s not theatricality, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert.

It’s showing your commitment to your audience’s ability to change and doing everything you can to show them that such a transformation is possible.


10 Ways to Let Go of Anger (Without Ignoring It)

10 Ways to Let Go of Anger (Without Ignoring It)

It can be tough to know exactly how to let go of anger and resentment. Though conventional wisdom might nudge you toward immediate forgiveness and release, you probably can’t turn your anger off like a faucet. But, before we get into exactly how to let go of anger, let’s get one thing straight: You’re allowed to be irritated, annoyed, and pissed off. There’s nothing inherently wrong with those feelings.

At SELF, we’re passionate about normalizing big emotions—we want you to know it’s okay to experience them. Like every other feeling, anger provides information, Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, Ph.D., a counseling psychologist and mindset coach, previously told SELF. So, if you have found that you’re raging about something specific (or you’re more pissed off than usual, and you don’t know why), anger might be pointing you toward something you need to acknowledge.

Anger is a reaction to a perceived threat, which means it can trigger our fight-or-flight response. When you’re angry, your body releases cortisol, adrenaline, and other hormones that can impact things like perspiration, heart rate, and blood flow, the American Psychological Association (APA) explains. Much like chronic stress, persistent anger can eventually lead to increased risks of hypertension, heart disease, ulcers, and bowel diseases. So while harnessed anger can be a powerful catalyst for action (think: activism), when anger controls you, it can harm your health. So it’s most helpful to try to embrace anger, learn from it, and then, well, set it free. Easier said than done? Sure. But that’s why we asked experts for advice on how exactly to do this.

Finding a balance between embracing and releasing anger requires that you “develop an intimate relationship” with it, Mitch Abrams, Psy.D., a clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Rutgers University and author of Anger Management in Sport, previously told SELF. Below, you’ll find a list of eight things you can do to face your anger and work toward releasing it. There’s no one trick to getting rid of your feelings immediately, but you can metabolize them in healthy ways (or healthier, at least).

1. Be honest: You’re pissed off.

Along with rushing toward forgiveness, you might feel compelled to bury your anger. This tendency can stem from cultural messages that anger is wrong (especially for women and other marginalized people), or it might come from your personal beliefs and experiences. No matter the reason, ignoring your anger (or any other emotion) isn’t the best idea. We’re not suggesting you start a fight, but it is okay to be pissed off.

Still, admitting that you’re angry can be difficult. For instance, if you’re someone who rushes to forgive (or tries to see life from every angle), imagine how you might react to a friend who is upset. The compassion and understanding that you’d share with them might be exactly what you need to give yourself. If you’re someone who buries your emotions, take a moment to admit that you’re angry out loud. Try not to rationalize it away or pretend it doesn’t exist. Simply say the words out loud and realize that the world is still standing. It’s okay to be pissed off.

2. Write down why you’re angry.

Once you’ve realized you’re angry, write your thoughts and emotions out. Not only is it great to just vent on paper for a while, as SELF previously reported, expressing your feelings helps you regulate them. When you’re angry, logic and reason tend to suffer, according to the APA. So writing down your thoughts allows you to explore how much of your anger is rooted in reality. You can start by answering the following question: Why am I angry right now?

3. Look at the situation like you’re a fly on the wall.

Journaling about your experience is helpful, but it can encourage you to ruminate a little. So if you start to feel worse about your experience, it might be helpful to practice self-distancing, which involves imagining yourself as an impartial observer in your experience. A 2021 study published in Frontiers in Psychology examined whether self-distancing could reduce negative self-talk and aggressive behavior in college athletes. Although the study only included 40 athletes, the research (which builds on older studies) did find that shifting point-of-view or adopting a third-person perspective can help reduce aggressive behavior, negative self-talk, and (to a lesser degree) anger. To do this, you can visualize yourself as a “fly on the wall” and watch the events that are bothering you play out in a more impersonal way. You might also shift from using first-person pronouns to third-person. So instead of saying, “I’m so angry because…” you might say, “She’s so angry because…” It might sound weird, but it really might be helpful if exploring things from a personal perspective is making you angrier.

4. Now, try to pinpoint your triggers.

When you decide to examine your rage, random memories, thoughts, and emotions can arise. Some of those thoughts might include name-calling and colorful language (no judgment). But there’s probably valuable information lurking underneath the surface too.

Anger can arise when you lose your patience, feel like you’re being ignored, disrespected, or overlooked, the Mayo Clinic explains. It can also happen when you’re dealing with a situation that feels similar to a traumatic incident you’ve experienced before, the Mayo Clinic adds. Seeing all of your feelings on paper (or on a screen) can help you figure out both what happened and how you’re interpreting the situation. This can help you avoid those triggers in the future, the APA says. And, if you’re angry at someone in particular, knowing what triggered you can help you communicate about what went down (more on that later).

5. Take a few deep breaths.

Anger can feel cerebral, especially when you’re clear on precisely what pushed you over the edge. But it isn’t just happening in your mind—there is also a physiological response. This is good news: It means that you can do things that will activate your parasympathetic nervous system (your “rest and digest” response), which can help you temper your temper a little (get it?). There are lots of breathing techniques that might help, but you can start by putting one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach as you slowly breathe in and out through your nose.

6. Get physical.

If breathing exercises don’t seem appealing, doing something physical is another way to activate your rest-and-digest system. This can involve a rage run, going all out on that quarantine rower you bought, or a brisk stroll around your neighborhood, or you can try mowing your lawn and scrubbing your baseboards until they’re spotless. The idea is to take your mind off of your thoughts and help you metabolize some of the chemicals that were released when you got angry.

7. Be mindful about venting.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with talking to someone about your anger, but research is pretty mixed about whether venting actually helps reduce anger. In fact, in a 2016 study published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, researchers asked 112 professionals to keep daily diaries of their experiences at work. The researchers found that the more people complained, the worse they felt. That doesn’t mean you should keep all of your feelings bottled up. You just have to be very intentional about how you choose to chat. In fact, there’s other research to suggest that a significant difference between healthy and unhealthy venting is, well, the listener. A 2015 study published in the Western Journal of Communication looked at how active listening (paraphrasing what the speaker said, asking follow-up questions, etc.) impacted undergraduate students who were venting, and researchers found that those who spoke to active listeners did feel a little better (though it didn’t do much for problem-solving). So the takeaway here is that you can vent, but be mindful about whether it’s making you feel better or worse.

8. Seek a healthy distraction.

Sometimes regulating your emotions involves finding healthy distractions, but this is different from burying your feelings and pretending they don’t exist. If you’re angry and need to calm down before you can really process, it’s okay to rely on the basics like snuggling with your pet, laughing with a friend, or watching a little guilty-pleasure TV. How do you know whether you’re avoiding or simply taking a break? “The key difference between numbing your emotions and a helpful distraction is what you feel like afterward,” Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and author of Detox Your Thoughts: Quit Negative Self-Talk for Good and Discover the Life You’ve Always Wanted, previously told SELF. If you feel a little bit better (or at least refreshed) afterward, it’s a solid indication that you’re managing anger without hiding from it.

9. If you’re angry at someone, consider talking it out when you’ve calmed down.

Sometimes we’re angry at other human beings, and processing emotions might include explaining why you’re upset. If you’ve worked through your anger and you don’t feel compelled to talk to the other person about it, that’s fine. And, if you’re raging and ready to fight, it’s best to wait until things have simmered. But if and when you feel ready, it’s acceptable to approach the person you’re upset with and explain how and why you’re angry. Remember to use “I statements” instead of accusations when trying to get your point across (we have a few other tips for healthy arguments here).

10. If the anger persists, consider chatting with a professional.

When trying to figure out whether or not you want to seek support for dealing with this emotion, the APA suggests asking yourself, Is my anger working for me? If you’re able to manage your anger and find the gems within it, you might not need professional support. If your anger impacts your well-being or relationships, it might be time to partner with a therapist to help you figure out how to move forward. Even if your anger isn’t troubling, it’s okay to chat through your concerns and seek consolation from your provider or online support groups. As we mentioned, there’s nothing wrong with getting angry (we’ve all been there), but you want to make sure that the anger isn’t stealing all of your joy.


Making Decisions Based on How We Feel About Memories, Not Accuracy

Making Decisions Based on How We Feel About Memories, Not Accuracy FeaturedNeuroscienceOpen Neuroscience ArticlesPsychology·

Summary: Objective and subjective memories function independently and involve different areas of the brain. People who make decisions based on subjective memory rely more on how they feel about the memory than on the accuracy of the details.

Source: UC Davis

When we recall a memory, we retrieve specific details about it: where, when, with whom. But we often also experience a vivid feeling of remembering the event, sometimes almost reliving it. Memory researchers call these processes objective and subjective memory, respectively.

A new study from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, shows that objective and subjective memory can function independently, involve different parts of the brain, and that people base their decisions on subjective memory — how they feel about a memory — more than on its accuracy.

“The study distinguishes between how well we remember and how well we think we remember, and shows that decision making depends primarily on the subjective evaluation of memory evidence,” said co-author Simona Ghetti, professor at the UC Davis Department of Psychology and Center for Mind and Brain.

The work is published March 9 in the journal eLife.

Postdoctoral researcher Yana Fandakova, now an investigator at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, graduate student Elliott Johnson and Ghetti tested objective and subjective memory. After showing volunteers a series of images of common objects, the researchers showed them pairs of images and asked them to determine which of the two they had seen before.

The volunteers were asked to rate the memory as “recollected,” if they experienced it as vivid and detailed, or as “familiar” if they felt that the memory lacked detail. In some of the tests, image pairs included a target image and a similar image of the same object. In others, the target was shown with an unrelated image from the same original set. For example, a chair might be shown with another chair shown from a different angle, or with an apple.

This experimental design allowed the researchers to score objective memory by how well the volunteers recalled previously seeing an image, and subjective memory by how they rated their own memory as vividly recollected or merely familiar. Finally, participants were asked to select which images to keep or discard, assigning them to a treasure chest or trash bin.

The team also used functional MRI to measure brain activity during this task.

Scoring objective and subjective memory

The results showed higher levels of objective memory when participants were tested with pairs of similar images. But, people were more likely to claim that they remembered vividly when looking at pairs of dissimilar images.

Participants were more likely to base their decision about whether to keep or trash an image on how they felt about a memory rather than its objective accuracy.

To give a real-world example, a person could have a vivid memory of going to an event with friends. Some of the actual details of that memory might be a bit off, but they may feel it is a vivid memory, so they might decide to go out with the same people again (after the pandemic).

On the other hand, if someone has learned to use similar power tools doing odd jobs around the house, their memories about those objects may be quite specific.

“But you might still feel that you are not recalling vividly because you might question whether you are remembering the right procedure about the right tool. So, you may end up asking for help instead of relying on your memory,” Ghetti said.

The fMRI data showed that objective and subjective memory recruited distinct cortical regions in the parietal and prefrontal regions. The regions involved in subjective experiences were also involved in decision making, bolstering the connection between the two processes.

“By understanding how our brains give rise to vivid subjective memories and memory decisions, we are moving a step closer to understanding how we learn to evaluate memory evidence in order to make effective decisions in the future,” Fandakova said.