Neuroscience Reveals The Easy Ritual That Will Make You Happy



You drastically underestimate the power of touch. Actually, I’m wrong…

The research says we’re really big on touching — our phones, that is. People touch their phones 85 times a day.

But how many times a day do you touch someone else? Probably not nearly as often. That’s kinda messed up, don’t ya think?

You need to touch people more. It will improve your life. Sound like Hallmark-Card-bumper-sticker-hippie-nonsense? Wrong.

What happens when babies are deprived of touch? It can screw them up for life. As David Linden, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University writes, “Touch is not optional for human development.”

From Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind:

But deprive a newborn of social touch, as occurred in grossly understaffed Romanian orphanages in the 1980s and 1990s, and a disaster unfolds: Growth is slowed, compulsive rocking and other self-soothing behaviors emerge, and, if not rectified, emergent disorders of mood, cognition, and self-control can persist through adulthood. Fortunately, even a relatively minor intervention— an hour per day of touch and limb manipulation from a caregiver— can reverse this terrible course if applied early in life. Touch is not optional for human development.

But you’re not a baby, right? Doesn’t matter. Linden says touch is still vital.

From Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind:

The answer is that interpersonal touch is a crucial form of social glue. It can bind partners into lasting couples. It reinforces bonds between parents and their children and between siblings. It connects people in the community and in the workplace, fostering emotions of gratitude, sympathy, and trust.

Saying that touch helps with relationships might seem obvious but the research shows touch improves nearly every area of your life. For instance: want to know the secret to success they don’t teach in any MBA program?


Yeah. Smooches. Don’t worry; I’ll explain…


Affection Makes You Successful

Am I recommending kissing in the office? No, not unless you find the chairs in the HR department comfy. But kissing before work? It might extend your life and boost your salary by 30%.

Via The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us:

A ten-year psychology study undertaken in Germany during the 1980s found that men who kissed their wives before leaving for work lived, on average, five years longer, earning 20 to 30 percent more than peers who left without a peck good-bye. The researchers also reported that not kissing one’s wife before leaving in the morning increased the possibility of a car accident by 50 percent. Psychologists do not believe it’s the kiss itself that accounts for the difference but rather that kissers were likely to begin the day with a positive attitude, leading to a healthier lifestyle.

Once you’re at work the kisses need to stop — but that doesn’t mean platonic touching should.

Need help on a project? Touch your coworker on the arm when you ask. They’re far more likely to give you what you need:

A large number of studies has shown that touching someone on the upper arm for just a second or two can have a surprisingly significant effect on how much help they then provide… Similar work has shown that the same subtle touch also significantly increases the likelihood that people will sign petitions, leave a tip for waitstaff, participate in a supermarket taste test (which then, in turn, increases the chances that they will buy the product), drink more in a bar, and become involved in charity work.

And what does the research say about touching and teamwork? Next time you’re watching a basketball game pay attention to which team high fives and fist bumps more often — because they’re probably going to win:

The teams that touched the most cooperated the most, and won the most.

Some will say that’s correlation, not causation. But how does neuroscientist David Linden interpret the findings? He thinks touching improves cooperation and performance.

From Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind:

While investigations of this type cannot prove causality, the correlations in this study strongly indicate that, at least within the context of professional basketball, brief celebratory touch enhances individual and group performance and does so by building cooperation.

But what if you don’t work on a team? What if you just work with numbers all day? Touching still helps. Believe it or not, massages improve math skills:

Twenty-six adults were given a chair massage and 24 control group adults were asked to relax in the massage chair for 15 minutes, two times per week for five weeks…the massage group showed increased speed and accuracy on math computations while the control group did not change…

(To learn what Harvard research says will make you happier and more successful, click here.)

So a little bit of touching can boost success. But work isn’t where most of your happiness comes from. What’s a dead simple prescription for boosting happiness at home?


Hugs Really Do Make You Happy

Researchers at Penn State told a bunch of students they had to give or get 5 hugs a day for a month.

Of course, college students are terrible at following instructions so they only ended up averaging 49 hugs over the four weeks. But it didn’t matter…

The hugging group (which partook in an average of forty-nine hugs over the course of the study) became much happier.

What’s the magic ingredient in hugs? That simple squeeze increases your oxytocin levels. Oxytocin tells your amygdala (the fear, anxiety, and aggression headquarters of your brain) to chill out.

Via The Upward Spiral:

A hug, especially a long one, releases a neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin, which reduces the reactivity of the amygdala.

Want to take it to the next level? Get a massage. Now you don’t need me to tell you massage makes you feel better…

But did you know it helps your brain build good habits that can increase happiness down the line? That it reduces pain? That it reduces fatigue and improves sleep?

Via The Upward Spiral:

The results are fairly clear that massage boosts your serotonin by as much as 30 percent. Massage also decreases stress hormones and raises dopamine levels, which helps you create new good habits… Massage reduces pain because the oxytocin system activates painkilling endorphins. Massage also improves sleep and reduces fatigue by increasing serotonin and dopamine and decreasing the stress hormone cortisol.

(To learn the 8 things the happiest people do every day, click here.)

So you’re getting your recommended daily allowance of hugs. Awesome. But you really should get that massage as well  — and get it from that special someone — because it does a lot more than just make you happier…


Massage Strengthens Relationships

Pay for some massage oil and you may not need to pay for a divorce attorney:

Research by Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute in Miami has found that a massage from a loved one can not only ease pain but also soothe depression and strengthen a relationship.

How do you get your partner to give you a massage? Tell them it will make you more attractive — because it can. That rub down can prevent wrinkles:

We show that body massage aimed at alleviating muscle tension in the neck and upper back alleviate frontalis muscle tension and improve forehead wrinkles.

Affectionate touches mean so much that merely noticing them can turn you into a Sherlock Holmes of relationships. Want to know how happy a couple is? Just pay attention to how often they kiss:

Overall, the researchers showed that the amount a couple kissed was proportional to their stated level of relationship satisfaction.

Even better, want to know how happy you are with your relationship? Just ask yourself one question:

When you’re stressed, how much better do you feel when you hold your partner’s hand? Happier couples feel more relief:

Coan had 16 married women undergo an fMRI, during which he administered a small electric shock while each woman held her husband’s hand, a stranger’s hand, or no hand at all. Women reported less unpleasantness while holding their husband’s hand and even slightly lower stress levels while holding the hand of a stranger. These results could not be chalked up to politeness either, as fMRI scans confirmed their feelings. Most strikingly, the effects of spousal handholding varied depending on marital quality, with happier couples feeling the most relief.

(To learn what science says about how to be better at flirting, click here.)

We’ve covered a lot. Let’s round it all up and learn what the long term result of more touching, hugging, kissing and massage is…


Sum Up

Here’s what we learned about the power of touch:

  • Affection makes you successful: Kisses before work can add 5 years to your life and 30% to your paycheck. (Kisses at work lead to lawsuits.)
  • Hugs really do make you happy: 8 glasses of water a day doesn’t make you healthy; it only makes you pee more. But 8 hugs a day do make you happier. Smile more, pee less.
  • Massage strengthens relationships: And they help prevent wrinkles. Botox is expensive. Massages are free.

Okay, that’s a lot of formal science about the most informal of subjects. But what happens if you listen to all these cold, clinical studies? You’ll be considered a warmer person. That’s nice, right?

No — it’s awesome. When people perceive you as warm they also see you as having a ton of other wonderful traits. But most of all, they trust you more.

From Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind:

The person described as warm was more often rated as generous, sociable, and humane, while the cold person was viewed as ungenerous, unsociable, and ruthless…perceiving someone as warm indicates a specific constellation of traits: helpfulness, friendliness, and, most important, trustworthiness.

I’d give you a hug right now if I could, but I can’t. So instead… I’ll give you homework:

Try that Penn State experiment yourself: give or get 5 hugs a day.

They can be from anyone. Can you do it for a month?

Remember, people reach for their phone 85 times a day. Maybe try reaching for a hug instead?

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