How To Become a Master at Talking To Strangers

A couple of years ago, I started to talk to strangers. That’s not to say I hadn’t talked to strangers before that, because I had. I’m the son and brother of highly social small-­business owners, and I’m a journalist, so talking to strangers has been both a way of life and a livelihood for me. And yet, a few years ago I noticed I wasn’t doing it much anymore — if at all. Between balancing a demanding job and a really demanding small child, I was often tired, distracted, and overscheduled. The prospect of striking up conversations with random strangers in coffee shops, or bars, or on the bus started to feel daunting. Eventually, I just stopped doing it.

This was a coping strategy, of course. I was overwhelmed, so something had to go. And talking to strangers can, as it turns out, be taxing. Psychologists have found that just making with a stranger can be cognitively demanding, tiring, and even stressful. That makes sense. You don’t know the person, you don’t know where the conversation is going, so you must pay closer attention than you would if you were talking to someone you know well. But psychologists have found that talking to a stranger actually boosts your mental performance — for that same reason: It’s a workout. I was saving myself a bit of effort, but I also noticed that my life was becoming less interesting, less surprising, maybe even a little lonely.

Related: 3 Ways to Make Memorable Small Talk That Gets People Interested In Working With You

After my epiphany, I got to wondering: Why don’t we talk to strangers more, what happens when we do, and how can we get better at it? It turns out, many researchers are asking the same questions. I started flying around the world to meet them: psychologists, evolutionary scientists, historians, urban planners, entrepreneurs, sociologists, and — you guessed it — a ton of fascinating strangers I met along the way. They all taught me that talking to strangers can not only be fun but also enhance our sense of well-being, make us smarter, expand our social and professional networks, and even help us overcome some of our most intractable social problems. (I detail this all in my new book, The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World.)

And as I researched the book, I kept coming back to the implications talking to strangers could have for entrepreneurs. Because I come from a family of small-business owners — and for a while served as executive editor at this magazine — I have seen firsthand how beneficial it is for businesspeople to hone those social skills. I have also spoken to a lot of college professors who lament that their students struggle to make the sorts of serendipitous social connections that will serve them so well once they start their careers. And, like all of us, I’m coming out of a year spent in relative quarantine. I’m rusty on these skills and need to get used to the sorts of fun, fruitful, and, yes, sometimes difficult freewheeling social interactions we were deprived of for more than a year.

All of which is to say, I decided that I needed to become an expert at talking to strangers. How? I signed up for a class unlike anything I’d ever taken before and bought a plane ticket to London.


Our journey begins on a bright day in a small classroom at Regent’s University. I’m sitting on a chair, limp with jet lag, clutching my third cup of coffee. There are four other people there, too. They appear to be functioning at a higher level than I am, thankfully. We have come to this classroom to learn how to talk to strangers.

Our teacher is an energetic 20-something named Georgie Nightingall. She’s the founder of Trigger Conversations, an acclaimed London-based “human connection organization” that hosts social events and immersive workshops aimed at helping people have meaningful interactions with strangers. Since she founded it in 2016, Nightingall has done more than 100 events and many training sessions — with strangers, companies, communities, universities, and conferences, both in London and around the world.

Related: How to Start a Conversation With Strangers at a Networking Event

Nightingall has learned that, for a lot of people, the hardest thing about talking to strangers is initiating the conversation: approaching someone, making them feel safe, and quickly conveying the idea that you don’t have an agenda, that you’re just being friendly or curious. She found that older people are much more likely to initiate a conversation, for instance, whereas younger people require a little more assurance. But she also found that in all her own attempts to speak to strangers, the vast majority of those interactions were substantial, and many went great.

She came to believe, too — and this is important — that making a practice of talking to strangers could offer more than a jolt of good feeling for an individual. There was joy in it, profundity, real communion. If practiced widely enough, she believed it could help repair a fracturing society. “We’re not just talking about a few individualized things,” she says. “We’re talking about a different way to live.”

Nightingall stands before our class, bright, engaging, and articulate, and walks us through what to expect over the coming days. She wants to take us “from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence, and from conscious competence to unconscious competence,” she says. In other words, we are currently bad at this and we’re unaware of why or how. We will learn what we are lacking. We will improve on it. And we will, hopefully, become so proficient that it will become second nature to us.

Our first lesson is small talk. A lot of people hate small talk, which is understandable, because a lot of small talk is deadly boring. Nightingall concedes the point. Yes, she says, small talk can be dull. But that’s because most people don’t understand what it’s for. It’s not the conversation. It’s the opener for a better conversation. It’s a way to get comfortable with one another and cast around for something you want to talk about. That, she says, is why it’s important to be aware of your response when someone asks something like “What do you do?” You are failing to understand what that question is really asking, which is this: “What should you and I talk about?”

Nightingall came to this insight via a couple of sources. She had done improve comedy in the past, and in improve, you start a sketch with something familiar to everyone in the audience — something relevant, timely, or present in the room — to bind the room together. Only then can you really take the audience on a ride. That’s small talk. But Nightingall has also followed the work of social anthropologist Kate Fox, who has studied, for instance, the seemingly inexhaustible English desire to discuss weather. While some critics have pointed to this affinity as evidence of a listless and unimaginative people, Fox argued that weather wasn’t the point. Instead, it is a means of social bonding, a greeting ritual. “English weather-speak is a form of code, evolved to help us overcome our natural reserve and actually talk to each other,” Fox writes. The content is not the point — familiarity, connection, and reassurance are. Once those are in place, a real conversation can happen.

When you recognize that small talk is just a door to a better conversation, Nightingall says, then it can be useful, because it’s structured in a way that naturally leads you toward common ground. We have all experienced how these conversations, if given the time, can move in ever-tightening circles until you both zero in on something you have in common and want to talk about. With that in place, you can wander, get a little personal, go deeper. But it’s probably on you to take it there, Nightingall says. “Everyone is interesting, but it’s not up to them to show you — it’s up to you to discover it.”

The best way to discover that interesting stuff, Nightingall says, is by “breaking the script.” That means using the techniques of small talk, but resisting the temptation to go on autopilot. For example, you go into a store and say, “How are you doing?” and the clerk says, “Fine; how are you?” and the conversation contains no information and goes nowhere. That’s a script. We use scripts to make interactions more efficient, particularly in busy, dense, fast-moving places like big cities. But in doing so, we deny ourselves the chance at a better experience and maybe a new contact, and we wall ourselves off from all the benefits that can come from talking to strangers.

Related: 10 Ways to Connect With Absolutely Anyone You Meet

So how do you break those scripts? With specificity and surprise, Nightingall says. For example, when someone says, “How are you?” she doesn’t say, “Fine.” Instead, she says, “I’d say I’m a 7.5 out of 10.” She briefly explains why she’s a 7.5, asks them how they’re doing, and then just waits. This is when mirroring kicks in; it’s a phenomenon where people naturally follow the lead of their conversational partners. If you say something generic, they will say something generic. If you say something specific, they are likely to as well. Thus, because Nightingall gave a number, her partner is likely to give a number themselves. If they say they’re a 6, Nightingall will ask, “What’ll it take to get you to an 8?” This specificity creates a light atmosphere and makes it harder for the other person to maintain the that you’re of a lesser mind, because it instantly demonstrates complexity, feeling, and humor: humanity, in other words. “Straightaway, they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re a human,’ ” Nightingall says. “You have that bond, and then, naturally, things open up.”

Here are other ways Nightingall suggests breaking a script. When a shop clerk asks, “Can I help you?” you can reply, “Can I help you?” Or instead of asking people at a party what they do, ask them what they’d like to do more of, or what they don’t do. Or instead of asking someone how their day went, ask, “Has your day lived up to your expectations?” All these things require a certain measure of confidence to pull off, Nightingall says. But they work. And when they do, they will reveal a little nugget of what it’s like to be that person. That is meaningful, because that nugget is indicative of what is beneath the surface. “How you do anything is how you do everything,” Nightingall says. That nugget tells you where to go next in the conversation.


Once you’ve established a little connection, what do you do? I normally start asking questions. Which makes sense: I’m showing an interest in the other person, and I demonstrate my interest by indulging my curiosity. But one paradox about talking to a stranger, Nightingall explains, is that while curiosity is indispensable, a barrage of questions out of the gate can feel like prying, or an interview. They don’t quite know where you’re coming from yet, and they don’t know if you have some kind of agenda. Even one personal question asked too early can create an uncomfortable dynamic because you’re asking something of someone. You’re making a demand.

Nightingall suggests that statements, not questions, can be a better way to open a conversation. A question compels an answer, whereas a statement leaves it up to the other person to decide whether they want to talk. It’s not a demand; it’s an offer. You notice something about your shared surroundings, offer an observation, and leave it to the other party to respond. If they do, you respond with another statement that builds on what they said.

These observations should ideally not be moronic — “I noticed that the sun came up today!” — but they can be simple. Like weather talk in England, the point is to indicate a shared experience. Nightingall has found that proximity helps, too. If you are at a museum, walking right up to someone looking at a painting and blurting out “What do you think?” is very different from making an observation about a painting after standing next to them for 30 seconds looking at it. That’s because you have been in their proximity. They have adjusted to your being there, and you have demonstrated a measure of self-control. Then you can speak. It feels less like an invasion.

Related: How to Become a Master Communicator by Following This One Rule

One day in class, my fellow students and I pair off to practice our technique. I’m partnered with “Paula,” who tells me that one of her favorite things is making a cup of good coffee for herself on the weekends and just sitting alone. I try to remember Nightingall’s advice about opening with statements, not questions, but now we’re in a groove — so I dig in. After four questions, Paula is talking about how resentful she is at having to work for other people. I’m obviously quite pleased with myself as I trot back to Nightingall with this pheasant in my mouth. But she is less impressed. She delicately explains that while “it’s clear you’re a person who asks questions for a living,” everything about my suggested I was looking for something to pounce on. I asked questions too quickly, she said. I was leaning forward. This wasn’t a conversation; it was an interview. Possibly an interrogation.

Nightingall suggested asking simpler and more open-ended questions. Instead of saying, “Do you think this was because you were a control freak?” just echo, or say, “Why do you think that is?” That is the opposite of what I usually do, but it’s what I must learn to do. In a good conversation, you must relinquish control. Your job is to help your partner arrive at their own conclusion and surprise you, not to ferret out whatever it is, slap a bow on it, and go, Next! There’s a powerful lesson there: If you’re interested only in things you know you’re interested in, you will never be surprised. You’ll never learn anything new, or gain a fresh perspective, or make a new friend or contact. The key to talking to strangers, it turns out, is letting go, letting them lead. Then the world opens itself to you.

Why don’t we talk to strangers? The answer I heard, over and over again from experts, is simply that we don’t talk to strangers. In many places, for many reasons, it has become a social norm, and social norms are really powerful. That is why Nightingall uses what she calls a foolproof method to not just violate the norm — but to openly acknowledge that you are violating the norm.

She asks us to imagine riding mass transit — which, as we know, is the last place anyone ever talks to a stranger. There is someone who strikes us as interesting. We can’t turn to that person and say, “Why do I find you so interesting?” because if you said something like that to a stranger on the subway, they’re going to assume this is the initiation of a chain of events that will ultimately conclude with their becoming crude homemade taxidermy. So Nightingall suggests something called a pre-frame. It’s an idea based in the field of neurolinguistic programming, which coaches people to “reframe” the possible negative thoughts of others — ­­in essence redefining their expectations for the interaction to come. Ordinarily, we might be wary if a stranger just starts talking to us. We don’t know who they are, or what they want, or whether they’re right in the head. What a pre-frame does is reassure them that you know all this.

To do it, you acknowledge out of the gate that this is a violation of a social norm. You say something like “Look, I know we’re not supposed to talk to people on the subway, but…” This demonstrates that you’re in full possession of your faculties. You’re not erratic, disturbed, or otherwise off in some way. It helps alleviate wariness and opens the possibility of a connection. Once that is established, Nightingall says, you follow the pre-frame with your statement — “I really like your sunglasses,” for instance. Then you follow that with a justification: “I just lost mine and I’ve been looking for a new pair.” The justification eases the person’s suspicion that you have some kind of agenda and allows you to talk a little more openly.

Related: What to Do When You Don’t Know Anyone in the Room

That’s when questions become more important, Nightingall says. Questions serve a multitude of functions, which is why, as I learned in my exercise with Paula, they can be so complicated. Yes, questions help you obtain information. And yes, on a deeper level, they help your conversational partner clarify the point they are trying to make. But they also help us emotionally bond with other people. In a series of studies in 2017, psychologist Karen Huang and her colleagues discovered that “people who ask more questions, particularly follow-up questions, are better liked by their conversation partners.” Those who ask more questions, the authors found, are perceived as higher in responsiveness — which is defined as “listening, , validation, and care.” In other words, people like us because we are interested in them.

And yet, the researchers noted, people tend not to ask a lot of questions. Why? Several reasons. “First,” Huang writes, “people may not think to ask questions at all…because people are egocentric — ­focused on expressing their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs with little or no interest in hearing what another person has to say. Or they may be so distracted by other aspects of the conversation that they do not realize that asking a question is an option.” Even if a question does pop into someone’s head, they may not ask it, because they worry it’ll land badly and be “perceived as rude, inappropriate, intrusive, or incompetent.” In these cases, people will probably just talk about themselves, which studies show they do twice as often as they talk about other matters — ­which, ironically, makes people like them less. (Good work, everybody.)

But what’s a good question to ask? Nightingall has us complete an exercise in which we are given banal statements — the sort commonly offered in small talk—and tasked with coming up with good questions. For instance, one student says she ran along the Thames yesterday. There is almost nothing in the world less interesting to me than running, and usually I’d take this as my cue to begin plotting my escape. But, working from the idea that small talk is the means, not the end, the class brainstorms good questions to ask that might lead to something more personal or interesting: “Do you run every day?” “Is that a passion for you?” “What would you do if you couldn’t run every day?” I suggest, “What are you running from?” which is meant as a joke, but the class seems to go for it.

Then we move on to the flip side of question-asking: It is listening. When people do start talking, you must listen, make eye contact, and generally show you’re engaged. We know this, of course. But we are not always good at showing it. Two effective techniques to signal engagement are paraphrasing what people have just said — “It seems like you’re saying…” — and echoing — which is simply occasionally repeating things your partner just said—both of which are commonly used by therapists and hostage negotiators to foster connection and build trust. For instance, if they say, “I guess at that point I was frustrated,” you say, “You were frustrated.” This seems deeply weird and unnatural, and feels awkward to do, and if you overdo it, your partner is going to think something’s wrong with you. But I am here to attest that, done well, it is extremely effective. It’s like a magic trick. Researchers have concluded as much. According to the French psychologists Nicolas Guéguen and Angélique Martin, “Research has shown that mimicry…leads to greater liking of the mimicker” and helps create rapport during a social interaction.

Nightingall breaks down listening into three levels. There is listening for things you know about. That’s the most superficial level. That’s when someone says something about baseball and you jump on it and start talking about baseball. Then there is listening for information — you show curiosity about someone but your questions are about collecting factual data. That’s also more about you and your interests. And then there’s the deepest level of listening: listening for experiences, feelings, motivations, and values. That kind of listening is more than simply hearing, or self-­affirmation. It’s paying attention and endeavoring to understand. It is demonstrated with eye contact, echoing, and paraphrasing, and it can be deepened by asking clarifying questions —­ Why? How? Who? — that help the person get to the heart of the matter.

In other words, at this level of listening, you are not simply listening for something you want to talk about, or offering advice, or trying to think of something smart to say in response. It’s not about your agenda. It is a level of engagement that is about helping your partner get to what they really want to talk about, and you going along for the ride. You still want to talk about yourself a bit, Nightingall says — to give a little, and not leave the person feeling like you’ve just rummaged around in the bureau of their personal life and made off with a watch. But you want most of the focus to be on them. It is, again, a form of . You are hosting someone. You are surrendering a measure of control. You are giving them space. You are taking a risk. That risk opens you to the potential rewards of talking to a stranger.

During lunch and after class, I try out some of these techniques around London. I ask a 20-something bartender at a pub if the day has met her expectations, and she confesses with very little prompting that yes, it has. She’s about to quit her day job. She feels she’s been sold a bill of goods about the merits of a straight corporate career, and she’s going to empty her savings and travel the world. She hasn’t told anyone this yet, she says. But she will soon.

At lunch at a Lebanese takeout restaurant, I ask the owner what items he’s most proud of — because that’s what I want. He starts taking bits of this and that and dropping them into my bag. I tell him I grew up in a white neighborhood, and when I was a kid, a Lebanese family moved in behind us and used to hand us plates over the fence of what was at that time very exotic food. Since then, Lebanese food has always been among my favorites. Curiously, when I eat it, I think about home. This, as Nightingall instructed, was me opening up the conversation with a statement, not a question. The owner tells me that in Lebanon, that kind of hospitality is a big deal; people always make a lot of food for visitors. While he talks, he keeps dropping more food into my bag. When he’s done, the bag weighs about five pounds and he charges me for maybe a third of it.

Related: Here’s How to Strike Up a Conversation With Almost Anyone

At the end of the final day of class, Nightingall tells us that practice will be everything. Some encounters will go poorly, she says, and some will be great, but in time, we will get more comfortable with doing this as we internalize the techniques we have learned. We will be able to get a little bolder or more playful. Our confidence, tone, and body language will alleviate people’s wariness at the flagrant violation of a social norm of long standing.

Indeed, Nightingall is something of a wizard at this. She once started a conversation with a man on the tube just by pointing at his hat, smiling, and saying, simply, “Hat.” She will randomly high-five people in the street, she says. She smiles at people going the opposite direction down an escalator just to see if they’ll smile back. She doesn’t order an Americano; she orders “the best Americano in the world.” And people respond. During a break one day, I walked into the campus Starbucks to get more coffee. Nightingall was already in there, talking animatedly with a barista she’d never met before. When she and I walked out, she told me he gave her the coffee on the house.

Nightingall’s free coffee, my Lebanese meal — these were not coincidences. As I learned repeatedly while testing techniques of talking to strangers, I’d often be rewarded with free food. There are, of course, far more fruitful, meaningful, and valuable reasons to talk to strangers. But the food stuck with me. Then I realized why: When you start a good conversation with a stranger, it’s like you’re giving them an uncommon gift. And more often than not, they want to give you something in return.

Joe Keohane

By: Joe Keohane / Magazine Contributor

Source: How to Become a Master at Talking to Strangers

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References:

“Micro review: ‘Talking to Strangers’ by Malcolm Gladwell – Times of India”. The Times of India. 5 October 2019. Retrieved 2020-04-07.v

Aging is Inevitable Why Not Do It Joyfully? Here’s How

It was recently my birthday. It wasn’t a “big” birthday — one of those round-numbered ones that feels like a milestone — but nevertheless it got me thinking about aging.

When I was a kid, growing older felt like an achievement. Each year that passed marked one step closer to adulthood, which for me meant independence and freedom. I remember going to the city with my dad to see plays or go to the Met and seeing a group of women having lunch in a café. It seemed glamorous and exciting to be an adult. I couldn’t wait.

Likewise, I never quite understood the popular antipathy toward old age. At Spencer’s, a novelty store at the Galleria Mall in White Plains where my friends and I would find gag gifts, I was always perplexed by the section of “Over the Hill” merchandise. I mean, my grandparents didn’t listen to my music or play Nintendo with me, but they were cool in their own way — not crusty and out of touch like the caricatures suggested. The geezer jokes and “lying about your age” punchlines that adorned the mugs and t-shirts there seemed to come from another world, one that didn’t make sense to me.

In my 20s and 30s, friends would casually toss around the phrase “We’re so old!” I rolled my eyes. We were so young, I felt, and why should we waste that youth focused on what was already behind us? After all, right at that moment we were the youngest we would ever be.

My 20s were miles better than my teens — more expansive, less cloistered —  and my 30s better than my 20s. I became more confident in my 30s, I got into therapy and dealt with years of childhood trauma, I learned to communicate my needs and be more mindful of the needs of others. I wouldn’t trade the growth of these past decades for fewer lines on my face or grey hairs on my head.

Author Heather Havrilesky wrote: “Growing old gracefully really means either disappearing or sticking around but always lying straight to people’s faces about the strength of your feelings and desires.”

Now that I’m in my 40s, though, aging isn’t some future concept. Just being alive means growing older, so yes, we’ve all been aging since we were born. But at a certain point, the notion of what life will be like in a couple of decades starts to feel more real, and then I start to reflect more on what my current choices mean for that future me.

I look back and wonder what my work-hard-play-hard 20s mean for me now. Could I have had a healthier body today if I had been kinder to it when I was younger? And could being gentler now give me more joy and freedom in the future?

The dominant discourse on aging, especially when it comes to women, revolves around “aging gracefully.” This generally involves looking at least three to five years younger than you actually are, while not appearing to do anything to get that way. It also means “acting your age,” by wearing age-appropriate clothes (mini skirts have an expiration date, apparently), having age-appropriate hair and doing age-appropriate activities — but maybe doing one or two surprisingly youthful things (surfing, maybe, or tap dancing) that don’t seem like you’re trying too hard yet let people know you’re still in the game.

As author Heather Havrilesky writes in her biting essay on the topic, “I think about how growing old gracefully really means either disappearing or sticking around but always lying straight to people’s faces about the strength of your feelings and desires.”

The only way to age and be deemed acceptable is to have lucky genes or to conceal your battles against time underneath a practiced smile.

“Aging gracefully” entails walking a tightrope between a youth-obsessed society, which tells us that our value declines as we age, and a culture that says nothing is as uncool as desperation, the fervent desire for something we can’t have. Marketers stoke our desire for youthfulness as the ticket to remaining relevant, then shame us when our efforts to preserve that youth go awry.

So the person who ages without thought to their appearance is written off as “having given up,” and the one whose face remains 35 forever thanks to the surgeon’s knife is considered a joke, and the only way to be deemed acceptable is to have lucky genes or to conceal your battles against time underneath a practiced smile. It all sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

And so I’ve been thinking about how we move beyond this damaging — and frankly misogynistic — frame. What if instead of seeing aging as something to defeat and conquer, we were to embrace what gets better with age, and work to amplify these joys while mitigating the losses of youth? I’m not suggesting we paper over the very real challenges, both physical and mental, that come with aging. But can we view these challenges without judgment or shame and instead look for joyful ways to navigate them?

I delved into the research on aging, and here are 8 insights I’ve found that can help us think about joyful ways to feel well as we grow older.

1. Seek out awe 

In a study of older adults, researchers found that taking an “awe walk,” a walk specifically focused on attending to vast or inspiring things in the environment, increased joy and prosocial emotions (feelings like generosity and kindness) more than simply taking a stroll in nature. Interestingly, they also found that “smile intensity,” a measure of how much the participants smiled, increased over the eight-week duration of the study. These walks were only 15 minutes long, once a week, and are low impact, so this is an easy way to create more joy in daily life as we age.

Practiced joyspotters well know the power of attending to joyful stimuli in the environment to boost mood. This study suggests that tuning our attention specifically to things that invoke wonder and awe can have measurable benefits, especially for older adults.

2. Get a culture fix 

A 1996 study of more than 12,000 people Sweden found that attending cultural events correlated with increased survival, while people who rarely attended cultural events had a higher risk of mortality. Since then, a raft of studies (a good summary of them here) has affirmed that people who participate in social activities such as attending church, going to the movies, playing cards or bingo, or going to restaurants or sporting events is linked with decreased mortality among older adults.

One reason may be that these activities increase social connection, deepen relationships, and reinforce feelings of belonging, which are positively associated with well-being. Cultural activities also help keep the mind sharp. While the pandemic has made this one challenging, as things start to open up again, getting a culture fix can be an easy way to age joyfully.

Enriching your environment with color, art, plants and other sensorially stimulating elements may be a worthwhile investment not just for protecting your mind as you age, but also your joy.

3. Stimulate your senses

One of the most talked-about parts of my TED Talk is when I describe my experience spending a night at the wildly colorful Reversible Destiny Lofts, an apartment building designed by the artist Arakawa and the poet Madeline Gins, who believed it could reverse aging.

The idea that an apartment could reverse aging sounds farfetched, but it becomes more grounded when we look at the theory behind it. Arakawa and Gins believed that just as our muscles atrophy if we don’t exercise them, our cognitive capacity diminishes if we don’t stimulate our senses.

They looked at our beige, dull interiors and imagined that these spaces would make our minds wither. And as it turns out, some early research in animals (see also) suggests there might be something to this. When mice are placed in “enriched environments” with lots of sensorial stimuli and opportunities for physical movement, it mitigates neurological changes associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia. While there is some evidence to suggest that this might apply to humans as well, the mechanisms behind this phenomenon are not yet well understood.

That said, we do know that the acuity of our senses declines with age. The lenses of our eyes thicken and tinge more yellow, allowing less light into the eye. Our sense of smell, taste and hearing also become less sharp. So, while you don’t have to recreate Arakawa and Gins’s quirky apartments, enriching your environment with color, art, plants and other sensorially stimulating elements may be a worthwhile investment not just for protecting your mind as you age, but also your joy.

4. Buy yourself flowers 

As if you needed an excuse for this one, but just in case, here you go. A study of older adults found that memory and mood improved when people were given a gift of flowers, which wasn’t the case when they were given another kind of gift.

Why would flowers have this effect? One reason may link to research on the attention restoration effect, which shows that the passive stimulation we find in looking at greenery helps to restore our ability to concentrate. Perhaps improved attention also results in improved memory. Another possibility, which is pure speculation at this point, relates to the evolutionary rationale for our interest in flowers.

Because flowers eventually become fruit, it would have made sense for our ancestors to take an interest in them and remember their location. Monitoring the locations of flowers would allow them to save time and energy when it came to finding fruiting plants later, and potentially reach the fruit before other hungry animals. I have to stress that there’s no evidence I’m aware of to support this explanation, but it’s an intriguing possibility.

Taking it a step further, research has also shown that gardening can have mental and physical health benefits for older adults. So whether you buy your flowers or grow them, know that you’re taking a joyful step toward greater well-being in later life.

There’s something joyful about a mini time warp — maybe it’s revisiting a vacation spot you once loved or maybe it’s a getaway with friends where you banish talk of present-day concerns.

5. Try a time warp 

In 1981, Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer ran an experiment with a group of men in their 70s that has come to be known as “the counterclockwise study.” For five days, they lived inside a monastery that had been designed to look just like it was 1959. There were vintage radios and black-and-white TVs instead of cassette players and VHS. The books that lined the shelves were ones that were popular at the time. The magazines, TV shows, clothes and music were all throwbacks to that exact period.

But these men weren’t just living in a time warp. They also had to participate. They were treated like they were in their 50s, rather than their 70s. They had to carry their own bags. They discussed the news and sports of 22 years earlier in the present tense. And to preserve the illusion, there were no mirrors and no photos, except of their younger selves.

At the end of five days, the men stood taller, had greater manual dexterity, and even better vision. Independent judges said they looked younger. A touch football game broke out among the group (some of whom had previously walked with a cane) as they waited for the bus home.

Langer was hesitant to publish her findings, concerned that the unusual method and small sample size might be hard for the academic community to accept. But in 2010, a BBC show recreated the experiment with aging celebrities to similar effect. Langer’s subsequent research has led her to conclude that we can prime our minds to feel younger, which in turn can make our bodies follow suit.

While it might be difficult to recreate Langer’s study in our own lives, I think there’s something joyful about a mini time warp. Maybe it’s revisiting a vacation spot you once loved, and steeping yourself in memories from an earlier time. Maybe it’s a getaway with friends where you banish all talk of present-day concerns. Maybe it’s finding a book or a stack of old magazines from back then and reading them while listening to throwback tunes.

It’s also worth noting that a control group from the counterclockwise study who simply reminisced about their youth, without using the present tense, did not experience the same dramatic results — so these “mini time warps” may be more for fun than for tangible benefit. But even if you don’t turn back the clock, checking back in with your younger self can be a way to rediscover parts of yourself that you may have lost touch with and bring them with you as you age.

6. Maximize mobility 

Exercise is often touted as a way to stay healthy and vibrant at any age, but one finding that makes it particularly relevant as we get older is that movement has been shown in studies to increase the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays a vital role in learning and memory. This is important because the hippocampus shrinks as we age, which can lead to memory deficits and increased risk of dementia. In one study of older adults, exercise increased hippocampus size by 2 percent, which is equivalent to reversing one to two years of age-related decline.

In addition to its cognitive effects, movement itself can be a source of joy. The ability to swim, hike, dance and play can be conduits to joy well into our older years. When I struggle to get motivated to exercise, I often think about my future self and how investing in my mobility now can help preserve range of motion and minimize repetitive stress injuries later. Simply put: you have one body, and it has to last your whole life. The more you do now to care for it, the more freedom you’ll have to do the things you love late in life.

As we age, we have a choice: We can either cling to the world as we shaped it and refuse to engage in the new world that kids are creating, or we can adapt to their world and remain curious, active participants.

7. Refeather your nest

Once you start looking at negative tropes around aging, you start seeing more and more of them. Take the phrase “empty nest,” which carries strong connotations of loss and deprivation. Though I’m at the stage where my nest suddenly just became quite full, I love the idea of reframing the “empty nest” into something more joyful.

One of my readers, Lee-Anne Ragan, offers up as a joyful process in the wake of children going off to start their own independent lives. She points out that the idea of an empty nest suggests that there’s nothing left, while refeathering takes a more ecological lens, imagining a kind of regeneration that happens as the home, and the family, transforms into something new. A refeathered nest is a place of possibility, creativity and delight.

8. Stay up on tech

While technology is often blamed for feelings of isolation, some studies show that for older adults, being technologically facile can offer a boost to well-being. One reason is that internet use may serve a predictor of social connection more broadly, and social connection is one of the most important contributors toward mental health and well-being throughout life, but especially in old age.

Other studies suggest that when older adults lack the skills to be able to use technology effectively, it leads to a greater sense of disconnection and disempowerment and that offering training to older adults on technology can promote cognitive function, interpersonal connection and a sense of control and independence.

I’ve often been tempted, when a radically new app or device comes out, to say “That’s for the kids,” and ignore it. With free time so scarce, exploring new tech feels less appealing than digging into one of the books piled up on my nightstand. And anyway, unplugging is supposed to be good for us, right? But technology shapes the world we live in, and those technologies that seem new and fringy in the moment often end up in the mainstream, influencing the ways we communicate, work and access even basic services.

I remember trying to teach my grandmother how to use email. She was someone who never wanted to bother anyone, and I thought that email’s asynchronous communication would be good for her. Instead of calling, she could just send a note and know that she wasn’t interrupting anyone. She tried, but she struggled to learn it. She had stopped caring about technology long before that, and the leap to figure out how to use a computer was too great. Small choices not to engage with a new technology don’t matter much in the moment, but once you get a few steps down the road to disconnection, it can feel intimidating to try to plug back in.

Staying engaged with new technologies doesn’t have to be a burden. It might simply mean saying yes when a niece or nephew invites you play Minecraft or opening a TikTok account just to check it out. You don’t have to master every new app or tool, but being comfortable with new developments can help you ensure you don’t end up feeling helpless or blindsided when the tech you rely on every day changes.

I think a lot about something psychologist Alison Gopnik said when I interviewed her for the Joy Makeover a couple of years ago. She said that each new generation breaks paradigms and overturns old ways of doing things as a matter of course. This isn’t gratuitous — it’s how we move forward as a society.

Each generation of kids will remake the world, and from this we’ll gain all kinds of new discoveries. So as we age, we have a choice: we can either cling to the world as we shaped it and refuse to engage in the new world our kids’ and grandkids’ generations are creating, or we can adapt to their world and remain curious, active participants in it.

This to me is at the heart of aging joyfully. Our goal shouldn’t be to cling to youth as we get older, but to keep our joy alive by tending our inner child throughout our days while also nurturing our connection to the changing world. In doing so, we balance wisdom with wonder, confidence with curiosity and depth with delight.

By:

Source: Aging is inevitable, so why not do it joyfully? Here’s how |

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References

“Does Human Life Span Really Have a Limit?”. WebMD. 28 June 2018.

Long Working Hours Killing 745,000 People a Year, Study Finds

 

The first global study of its kind showed 745,000 people died in 2016 from stroke and heart disease due to long hours.The report found that people living in South East Asia and the Western Pacific region were the most affected.

The WHO also said the trend may worsen due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The research found that working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with a working week of 35 to 40 hours.

The study, conducted with the International Labour Organization (ILO), also showed almost three quarters of those that died as a result of working long hours were middle-aged or older men.

Often, the deaths occurred much later in life, sometimes decades later, than the long hours were worked.Five weeks ago, a post on LinkedIn from 45-year-old Jonathan Frostick gained widespread publicity as he described how he’d had a wake-up call over long working hours.

The regulatory program manager working for HSBC had just sat down on a Sunday afternoon to prepare for the working week ahead when he felt a tightness in his chest, a throbbing in his throat, jawline and arm, and difficulty breathing.

“I got to the bedroom so I could lie down, and got the attention of my wife who phoned 999,” he said.While recovering from his heart-attack, Mr Frostick decided to restructure his approach to work. “I’m not spending all day on Zoom anymore,” he said.

His post struck a chord with hundreds of readers, who shared their experiences of overwork and the impact on their health.Mr Frostick doesn’t blame his employer for the long hours he was putting in, but one respondent said: “Companies continue to push people to their limits without concern for your personal well-being.”

HSBC said everyone at the bank wished Mr Frostick a full and speedy recovery.”We also recognise the importance of personal health and wellbeing and a good work-life balance. Over the last year we have redoubled our efforts on health and wellbeing.

“The response to this topic shows how much this is on people’s minds and we are encouraging everyone to make their health and wellbeing a top priority.”

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While the WHO study did not cover the period of the pandemic, WHO officials said the recent jump in remote working and the economic slowdown may have increased the risks associated with long working hours.

“We have some evidence that shows that when countries go into national lockdown, the number of hours worked increase by about 10%,” WHO technical officer Frank Pega said.

The report said working long hours was estimated to be responsible for about a third of all work-related disease, making it the largest occupational disease burden.

The researchers said that there were two ways longer working hours led to poor health outcomes: firstly through direct physiological responses to stress, and secondly because longer hours meant workers were more likely to adopt health-harming behaviours such as tobacco and alcohol use, less sleep and exercise, and an unhealthy diet.

Andrew Falls, 32, a service engineer based in Leeds, says the long hours at his previous employer took a toll on his mental and physical health.”Fifty to 55 hour weeks were the norm. I was also away from home for weeks on end.”

“Stress, depression, anxiety, it was a cauldron of bad feedback loops,” he says. “I was in a constant state of being run down.”After five years he left the job to retrain as a software engineer. The number of people working long hours was increasing before the pandemic struck, according to the WHO, and was around 9% of the total global population.

In the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that people working from home during the pandemic were putting in an average of six hours of unpaid overtime a week. People who did not work from home put in an average of 3.6 hours a week overtime, the ONS said.

The WHO suggests that employers should now take this into account when assessing the occupational health risks of their workers. Capping hours would be beneficial for employers as that had been shown to increase productivity, Mr Pega said. “It’s really a smart choice to not increase long working hours in an economic crisis.”

Source: Long working hours killing 745,000 people a year, study finds – BBC News

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References

“Spain introduces new working hours law requiring employees to clock in and out”. Idealista. Retrieved 30 April 2020.