“No one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbor, if you would live for yourself.” — Seneca (c. 4 BCE – 65)
“Trust men, and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
People are often hesitant to be “nice.” It is stigmatized. When we see polite people, they often cause us to wonder: “Are they so friendly because they are weak?” This is a common contention because being kind often involves slowing down, letting others have their way, and handicapping oneself. But equating niceness with weakness is fallacious because being nice doesn’t necessarily mean that you allow others to take advantage. This is because it is entirely possible to be self-composed when kind. Composed kindness has very few costs. Employing it will improve your interpersonal functioning and restore your good faith in others. In Chapter 1, I said that people were taking my anxious kindness for weakness, making me into a bitter person. You will find that people take your composed kindness for strength, making you into a people person.
Every encounter you have with another person is an opportunity for you to practice composed kindness. Keep spreading goodwill whether others reciprocate or not. Starting with unilateral kindness can help you surmount the other person’s defense mechanisms. Be prepared to be the cheerful, helpful chap in a world full of miserable Scrooges. Presume good faith and positive intentions. This eventually brings the best out in everyone. You cannot lose so long as you maintain your sense of enlightened benevolence, guided by your personal code, and centered by unbothered breathing.
Being Cool Is Disarming
One of the best ways to bring composure to your kindness is by being cool. Done right, it can disarm pettiness. What does “acting cool” mean to you? To answer this, think of the top five coolest people you know. Who would be on your list of the coolest celebrities? Who were the people you looked up to in your youth? When have you been cool in the past? Channel this energy. Think urbane, suave, garrulous, jocular, and levelheaded. You want sangfroid, verve, cachet, and moxie. Think firmness of character, force of determination, steadiness of nerves, unruffled tact, and being powerfully good-natured. Keep the word “savoir-faire” and its definition in mind: the ability to speak or behave appropriately and at ease in social situations.
Being cool means not being afraid of being too calm. This can make you come off as numb or detached, and that is okay. Don’t be afraid to zone out on your friends. They may take it as aloofness and try to push you away. But if you don’t push back and you leave the door open, allowing them to linger, many people will choose to hang out and hang loose with you. Try to get them to detach as much as you have, proving that forced extraversion isn’t necessary. Take breaks from talking and just take in your surroundings. Never feel pressured to keep interacting. Lounge in comfortable silences. Don’t use adrenaline to help you complete your sentence or help you find that term on the tip of your tongue. Don’t allow cortisol to dictate your personality at the event. Instead, use serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin to help you build rapport.
Being cool is about having sustainable body language in social situations. You want to operate in a way that would not fatigue even if you had to socialize for 48 hours straight. How would you behave if you knew that you would be awake, surrounded by people and face-to-face interactions for two full days? You would have to pace yourself. This would require you to allow plenty of micro-breaks to each of various modules. Your face, voice, breath, and posture would have to be indefatigable (invulnerable to fatigue). And if you were to maintain your assertiveness for the duration, you would have to be very “cool.” Almost every one of the exercises in this book will enhance your cool. Facial massage, gut compression, vocal rehab, and increasing diaphragm range will all contribute significantly.
For your coolness to be tenable in the long term, you must act like everyone else is cool. When you treat someone else as though they were cool, you validate them. Thus, the best way to make yourself seem normal and well-functioning is to treat everyone else as normal and well-functioning. So, act as if you expect the other person to be confident and at ease in everything they say and do.
Act as if Nothing Is Awkward
Most people’s attempts at social dominance center around making others feel as if they are less socially skilled. The people around you try to gaslight you into thinking that you are socially incompetent. Over time, this caused me to act as if everything I did, and most things that others did, was awkward. I felt that I had social shortcomings and owed it to others to use my body language to recognize this, or else I was shameless. I would also subtly patronize others for their uncouth blunders, thinking it would be dishonest to ignore these. This led me into a downward spiral of awkwardness.
One day I tried the opposite; I acted like nothing anyone did was amateur. I pretended to be comfortable with every aspect of the interactions I had. I quickly found that this tactic works wonders and that it is at the heart of being cool, as well as being simultaneously nondominating and nonsubmissive. The more we treat others as if they are adroit socially, the better they feel about themselves and the more they like us. Do this and be shameless about it. Act as if you and whoever you’re with are the coolest people on the planet. Once you put this into effect, you will find that your gallant speech and actions send chills up your spine. Your own behavior will become your primary source of endorphins, and you will get hooked on being assertive in a debonair way.
Treating people who are awkward or socially defeated as if they are normal will liberate them. We should strive to make everyone feel socially facile even if talking to them is uncomfortable at first. Ignore the unrefined aspects of their presentation and express enthusiasm for what they are trying to communicate. Move on quickly from their embarrassments and bloopers. Ignore any tension leakage they may exhibit. Most people focus on all that is ugly and inept in others. When you don’t even perceive these things, you give them a chance to blossom.
Being Humble Rescues You from Status Competition
Because our genes have been subjected to the primate status hierarchy for tens of millions of years, our brains have a propensity to interpret every occurrence as either a promotion or a demotion. It is instinctual. Boasting, for example, becomes common in children as young as three. The ego wants to turn relationships into self-aggrandizement. Left unchecked, it will turn everyone, even friends and family, into a means to an end. This instinct to constantly defend ourselves drains us of the same composure that it intends to conserve.
Indeed, confidence is necessary, but egotism is incredibly tiresome. Paradoxically, taking yourself too seriously is a submissive trait. Developing a side of yourself that is humble and modest is necessary for being happy. Counterintuitively, it is also empowering because it allows you not to be affected by constant demotions. We need humility and unobtrusiveness. They afford us a type of confidence that is unconditional and not based on external circumstances.
Another aspect of being cool is not being focused on yourself. Don’t think about how you are perceived when you are actively socializing. Pretend to have as little self-awareness of your appearance as possible. Over time, this will manifest. Impression management and self-monitoring can be critical, but at times try to stop thinking about others’ social evaluations of you. Tell yourself that you have already had enough approval, compliments, and praise from others to last a lifetime and that you don’t need any more. This will help you stop identifying with the evaluations of others. An old cliché tells us that confidence isn’t thinking you’re better than others; it’s not even bothering to make the comparison. This logic holds. As the charitable, big-hearted, alpha-minded individual you are, work toward being oblivious to your conceits.
Healthy humility will make it so that you don’t have to look for evidence of your worth anymore. Bring an end to the need to measure yourself against other people. You want to be a strong presence that doesn’t glorify or advertise itself. Being humble also precludes you from having to continually prove yourself so that you are not embarrassed when you inevitably make mistakes. We should be willing and happy to play a game with a friend, even when we know she is much better than us. The only person you should be working toward being better than is the human being you were yesterday.
This next activity is sometimes regarded in Buddhism and Hinduism as the single most potent metaphysical practice. It will tear your false pride to shreds and reveal emotional maturity underneath it. It involves resisting the temptation to defend yourself in front of others. Spiritual author Eckhart Tolle has an insight about this practice: “When you are seemingly diminished in some way and remain in absolute non-reaction, not just externally but also internally, you realize that nothing real has been diminished, that through becoming ‘less,’ you become more.”
The best way to cultivate inner freedom is to learn to relax around petty, rude, and aggressive people. The need to defend yourself will diminish until it becomes clear to everyone that there is nothing they can do to aggravate you. Every time you stop yourself from overreacting, it gets easier. Likewise, every time you stop yourself from status maneuvering, social chess, jockeying for power, and pretending to be someone you are not, it gets easier.
Endearing But Still Composed
This book has argued that we should not act submissive because of the way it increases tension in the body over time. However, body and voice movements that take effort or briefly compromise composure endear people. There are many ways to do this that come across as warm but that are not inferiority displays and won’t lead to repetitive strain. For example, some endearing forms of body language include keeping your palms up, moving closer to people, pointing your feet toward them, and rubbing your hands together.
We should even use self-handicapping displays at times. Do this judiciously, a little bit at a time, without letting it cripple you. If you don’t brace them and give them the micro-breaks they need, the modules involved will recharge and can be used again right away with no cost. It is endearing to squint, raise the eyebrows, raise the shoulders, crinkle the nose, speak in a high voice, and stoop over for brief periods. As long as it only persists for a few seconds and trigger points are not made active, it won’t drain you.
Embracing Composed Submissiveness
Up until now, this book has denigrated submissiveness. We have discussed various ways that it damages both composure and health. But it is entirely possible to be composed and submissive. There are times when composed submissiveness is not just appropriate but also beneficial. These are the times when we let or encourage others to lead.
It can be freeing to be mellow and passive and to support the leadership of others. Allow other people to take over and yourself to relax when they do. Relish the relief from being in charge. Do so while exuding balanced, non-confrontational energy. Perpetual assertion takes its toll. It involves intense face time, eye contact, talking, decision making, and an overtaxing of existing bracing patterns. It leads to social fatigue and is why high-pressure executives and CEOs can age so rapidly. We should be handing over the pack leader role constantly, passing it around from person to person, sharing the stage, the crown, and the accompanying burdens.
Often, in real life, we are forced to play an inferior role. At our workplace, we must submit to higher-ups to keep our jobs and advance our careers. There are many reasons you should treat your boss as the dominant individual. What’s more, it may be best for you, your boss, and the business to allow them to act superior in some ways. That said, don’t hurt yourself just to let the boss be the boss. Acquiesce appropriately to your employer, law enforcement, judges, and other authority figures without diminishing your posture, shortening your breath, or surrendering your pride. This will allow you to maintain a healthy serotonin level regardless of your place on the corporate ladder.
Just because you don’t try to stop someone from acting dominant doesn’t mean they are dominating you. They are only dominating you if you are inhibiting yourself or avoiding confrontation with them out of fear. They can never dominate you as long as you stay composed. Take sovereignty from needless one-upmanship.
Keep in mind that everyone has essential observations and keen insights to impart. All humans are our fellows and our equals. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every man I meet is in some way my superior.” So, let every man and woman be your superior at times, especially when they have something to teach you. When you see someone do better than you at something you value, don’t feel envious or threatened. Instead, feel eager to learn. This is ego stability and emotional strength.
When threatened by an intruder, a dominant gorilla will let out a tremendous roar, charge, and knock down the newcomer with an immense hand swipe. However, outside of defending themselves and their group members, dominant gorillas do not generally overtly assert their rank.1 Even though gorillas are immense powerhouses, animal behaviorists often describe them as shy because, most of the time, they don’t feel like they have anything to prove. It is not that they are shy; it is that we are arrogant, pompous, and flagrantly adversarial.
The only way to transcend the dominance hierarchy is to be content when you temporarily find yourself in a subordinate position; to be comfortable when others perceive you as subordinate without trying to change their mind. You don’t want to be a doormat, but neither do you want to be consumed by resisting looking like a doormat. Only doormats worry about being doormats.
Our unconscious mind values prestige over happiness. The two are often at odds. You can change this by intentionally pursuing happiness over prestige.
Optimism, Excitement, and Feeling Good
It pays to be happy. Optimists live longer, have stronger immune systems, recover from injury more quickly, and have increased mental and physical health. Happiness and positive emotions are linked to higher earnings, better appraisal at work, relationships of higher quality, and increased likability.2 Happy people are perceived as more intelligent, competent, and physically attractive. Optimists cope more effectively with stress, are generally healthier, and are less likely to become depressed.3 When optimists have coronary bypass surgery, they heal more quickly than pessimists.4 Positive thinking results in a cardiovascular system that is less reactive to stress.5 But how do we become happy in the first place?
Optimists attribute the cause of adverse events to external, specific, and transient factors. In other words, they see a tragedy as a one-off fluke. Pessimists, on the other hand, attribute failures to their own internal, global, and permanent shortcomings. They see themselves as useless and assume the world is out to get them. If this is you, stop it. Regain your optimism by recognizing that you have the potential to fix anything and everything that has ever been wrong with your life. Recognize that the “future you” will be skilled and competent enough to solve any problems that arise.
We are constantly making expressions to ourselves as we go about our days alone. Whatever these expressions are, they constitute our true selves. For most people, it’s wincing. If that’s you, make the gestures and facial expressions of happiness when you are by yourself. The smiling and the postural alterations from previous chapters will help with this. If solitary happiness is not practiced regularly, attempts at appearing happy among others will be fake. Remember how excited you could become as a child? You had no reservations about expressing exuberance and enthusiasm. Nothing is stopping you from feeling zestfully happy right now aside from the force of habit.
I have spent much of this book describing how we use our bodily energy to traumatize our tissues. This might make you assume that our life force is destructive. It is not. You must redirect that same life force away from anxiety and tension toward happiness and joy. The more you do this, the less energy there is to sustain stress. Doing so actively reprograms how your body routes energy, setting you up for hardwired happiness. Accordingly, all the exercises in this book should be done with joy and optimistic expectations. This will make them much more powerful.
Be a lifeless corpse when it comes to tension, ego, and pessimism. When it comes to playfulness, however, that’s when you want to be alive and spend your chi-like energy on positive social displays. Let’s start with laughter.
Laughter in Other Animals
Many mammals laugh. For example, most rodents emit long ultrasonic vocalizations during rough and tumble play. The sounds rats and mice make have been described as chirping and occur in the 50-kHz range (inaudible to humans). When chirping, they actively seek being tickled and played with. They chirp when wrestling, chasing, or searching for one another. They chirp during courting and before copulation. Researchers have interpreted rat chirping as an expectation of something rewarding and it appears to elicit friendly social approach in other members of their species.6 It also nullifies anxiety. If you tickle a rat after a fearful situation, it will neutralize the negative emotions and vastly decrease any fear-related learning going on in its brain.
Dogs can pant using heavy, forced exhalations in a way that suggests a form of modified laughter. They use it during play. Dogs exposed to a recorded “dog-laugh” exhibit significantly reduced stress behaviors, increased tail wagging, the display of the canine “play-face,” as well as prosocial behavior such as approaching and licking another dog’s lips.7
Chimps, gorillas, and orangutans all exhibit laughter-like vocalizations in response to physical play, including friendly contact like chasing, wrestling, and tickling.8 It is a shallow pant, conveying nonaggression that is highly reminiscent of suppressed laughter in humans. Their laughter shows the same sonographic pattern as that of human babies. They also use similar facial expressions while laughing and are ticklish in the same areas that humans are. Ape laughter consists of a series of exhalations and inhalations (like panting). On the other hand, human laughter consists of a series of exhalations with no intervening inhalations.9
Mice, dogs, apes, and humans make their breath shallow to create rapport. Insistence on breathing at long intervals caused me to stop doing this. I was so focused on diaphragmatic breathing that I refused to breathe shallowly even when joking with friends. This is like refusing to make anything other than an expressionless face. Think of shallow breathing during fun, jovial play as a form of healthy panting that serves as a temporary micro-break or counterpose to diaphragmatic breathing. Refusing to pant is refusing to play.
Rehabilitating Your Laughter Will Make It Much More Pleasurable
Gelotology is the study of laughter and the positive effects it can have on the body. Proponents advocate the induction of laughter on therapeutic grounds.10 Laughter yoga (hasya yoga) and laughter meditation also use voluntary laughter for therapeutic purposes. Studies have shown that it alleviates both stress and pain.11 These practices assume that voluntary or forced laughter provides some of the same benefits as spontaneous laughter. Voluntary laughter is often done in groups and may turn into real laughter. Participants are instructed to facilitate laughing by using “childlike playfulness” and eye contact. These practices are great, but I think they do not get down to the issue’s crux. From what I have seen, people who engage in this practice are mostly laughing superficially. To reap the benefits, we must isolate and strengthen the core laughing reflex.
The muscles involved in laughing have been traumatized by life stress. As an infant, your laugh was primordial and bona fide. Years of anxious laughter and worrying that your laugh is too aggressive have damaged your instinctual laughing pattern. As you might expect, people who are depressed or anxious have the least convincing laughs. Extremely dominant people laugh loudly, without hesitating, at whatever they like. Most people, however, stifle their laughter in the same way they stifle their posture and breathing. This explains why most adults’ laughter is eccentric and deviated from the innate laughter pattern.
A baby’s laughter is vivacious and natural. To relearn to laugh genuinely, it is helpful to watch infants and toddlers laughing. Take the time to search for videos of “babies laughing” on the internet and mimic them. You will see that infants don’t stifle their laughter. They don’t worry about their laugh being too forceful or about offending someone. Neither should we. Your laugh should shake you to your core and be intensely pleasurable.
A hearty and progressive emptying of the lungs applies a significant load to the diaphragm and the muscles of the chest wall, triggering the endorphin system.12 This is why social laughter is correlated with an elevated pain threshold.13 However, most adult laughs hardly activate the pleasure system at all. After years of stifling laughter, we have forgotten how to laugh in a way that produces this response. For many people, the diaphragm’s role in laughter has been weakened so much that laughter no longer recruits endorphins and is draining rather than energizing.
Fake or nervous laughter comes from the throat and often results in increased tension there. During natural laughter, the diaphragm does most of the work. By training yourself to laugh through deep contractions of the diaphragm and abdominals, you can rebuild an authentic laugh. These muscles should reach exhaustion and start to fail during a good laugh. If your diaphragm and abdominals begin to burn like they did when you were a child, you know that you are doing it right. The next exercise will show you exactly how to retrain your diaphragm to fully participate in the act of laughing.
Because the muscles are strained, stagnant, and uncoordinated, your laugh may sound like that of an insane villain at first. But, with practice, it will become friendly and ebullient. It is important to do this exercise loudly, gleefully, and unhesitatingly, so make sure that you are not worried about others hearing you. Do it in a closet or, better yet, in the car.
It will be uncomfortable at first. The muscles you engage may be so weak that they feel susceptible to damage. Mine certainly were. If so, take it easy the first few days and build up to doing it vigorously. Use laughter to work out the cramp in your diaphragm. This exercise is a powerful complement to diaphragmatic breathing exercises and will help you reach muscles that you otherwise could not. To this end, try it while lying on your stomach, from a forward fold, or from happy baby pose with your belly pushed out.
At first, the laughing exercise should make you feel weary. After only one week, you will be able to push harder and be more adept at coordinating the pulses of laughter. After a few weeks, you will be good at it and find yourself laughing more often. This exercise transformed my laugh from a flimsy, perfunctory, courtesy laugh into something enjoyable. Now I laugh spontaneously, heartily, resolutely, and much more frequently. I find laughing tremendously gratifying, and things that were barely amusing to me before are now hilarious.
I believe that laughing evolved to help humans let off steam. It may have allowed instances of camaraderie and social bonding to influence an individual’s life strategy to place less value on the adaptive aspects of trauma. In other words, the more conducive your environment is to laughing, the more your body assumes that your environment is a good one and that it is safe to be optimistic. A real laugh was probably designed by evolution to help us attain a full-range, hard contraction of the diaphragm. As with pant-hooting (Exercise 11.6), this contraction relieves the diaphragm of the partial contraction caused by stress and shallow breathing.
The more you rehabilitate your laugh, the more you increase your diaphragm’s potential for providing you with endorphins. Remember that endorphins are most reliably produced by grooming, singing, laughing, and play.14 These are addressed in Chapter 6, Chapter 12, this section, and the next section, respectively,
Some people with relatively calm nasopharynxes can clear their nasopharynx in the same way others clear their throats. It is like snorting, except it involves breathing out rather than breathing in. Some people call it a nose laugh. I see it as a dominance signal conveying that the person’s nasopharynx is not tense. When my nasopharynx was tense, I was incapable of doing it. Once you have compressed your nasopharynx using the exercises in Chapter 11, you can build the coordination to perform this empowering laugh.
Some people use this signal to laugh at something they find inferior, like rolling the eyes. Please don’t use it derisively or to ridicule people. Instead, use it as a heartfelt laugh to communicate that you are enjoying absurdity. People usually find it exciting, and it makes them want to laugh along with you.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing” — George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Play, like laughter, is a form of medicine, but certain conditions must be met for it to be genuine. All stressors (anger, fear, pain, hunger, and separation) reduce play. Animals must be well fed, comfortable, and healthy for play to take place. When these conditions are met, rats and mice chase and pounce, wrestle, pin, nip, poke, and knock each other over. This is the kind of play that generates high-frequency laughter-like chirps at 50 kHz. Physical rough-and-tumble play is the most fun of all. At one point, I thought all aggressive acts were unpleasant, but judging from play in other mammals, feigned aggression can be joyous.
It is important to note that when mammals play, rapid role reversal is a defining element. In other words, they know it is friendly when everyone gets a chance to be on top. Knowledge of this should influence us to pass being dominant back and forth with our friends. The rat that ends up on top more often during pins becomes dominant. The continuation of play necessitates a willingness on the part of the winner to self-handicap. Dominant rats that go easy on others always have playmates, but those that bully are ignored when they try to solicit play. Play helps animals determine who to avoid and with whom they can develop cooperative relationships. They learn to dominate but also accept defeat without being “defeated.”
Dominant animals would rather play, but aggressive animals would rather fight. Rats involved in a fight bite each other and box. This can lead to injury. They stand on their hind legs and strike each other with their front paws. When they do this, the 50-kHz “laughter” turns into 22-kHz “complaints.” This is similar to chimpanzees among whom play is accompanied by wrestling, panting, and a play face, whereas fighting involves boxing, tearing, scratching, biting, and barking.
Illustration 25.1: Animals playing.
Rather than being based around wrestling, human play focuses on verbal interchange and banter. Repartee involves provocation, rejoinders, biting commentary, and, if friendly, laughter. As in other mammals, this form of verbal jousting can engender friendship, respect, and cooperation. It can be made more fun with the use of bombastic quarreling, absurd braggadocio, frivolous histrionics, grandiose pretentiousness, and ostentatious balderdash. When you do it, be spunky, employ exuberance, and enjoy it. You don’t have to act excitable to be sparkling and bubbly; you just need to be playful. Usually, if you manage to entertain yourself, others will be entertained as well.
Remember to be like the mice during play and allow others their opportunity to be on top, lest you risk losing playmates. This includes giving others equal chance to talk and refraining from dominating conversations. A dog initiates play by crouching. A monkey initiates it by exposing its rear end. Both of these actions involve self-diminishment and vulnerability. Showing others that you don’t take yourself too seriously or exposing a vulnerability can make them want to play with you. After experimenting with this for years now, I have concluded that you can be as vulnerable and nice as you can, and as long as you are playful, it won’t be mistaken for weakness.
Play ranks among the most beneficial neuroplastic interventions. Placing rodents into enriched environments where they can socialize, wrestle, and play with others results in heavier brains and higher levels of dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. Studies have found that rats deprived of play are more fearful and aggressive toward other rats. Encouraging playfulness in animals is one of the few behavioral interventions known to reverse anxiety and depressive symptoms.15 This is probably because it allows them to shift from the threat response to the challenge response.
Social play involves creativity and requires that we learn to approach others in diverting and lively ways. Imagination and fantasy can also facilitate play. My favorite way to play with people is to make up imaginary scenarios: “What would you do if…?” I am animated, shameless, and immature when doing this. My scenarios include helicopters, ninjas, dinosaurs, and hats with pinwheels on top of them. When other people do this, recognize it as play, participate, and egg them on by laughing with them. Whenever someone uses an analogy or poetic license to describe a situation, help them flesh it out until you have created a whimsical, comical cartoon world. Feel at home with wordplay, punning, nonsense, and silliness. Ask outrageous questions, set up outlandish hypotheticals, and feel comfortable acting like a kid. If you have genuine, heartfelt fun, they will, too, so entertain yourself and your sense of humor first.
Reawaken Your Play Face
A simple open-mouthed expression in primates called the “play-face” communicates that play is either underway or about to begin. It often accompanies primate laughter. The jaw is wide open, and sometimes, the corners of the mouth are slightly drawn back. Unlike the primate sneer or grin, the expression is relaxed, and the teeth are usually covered completely. All apes, as well as macaques, patas, vervets, and rhesus monkeys, use the play-face. Common during play sessions in juveniles, it is also an adult expression. It is used to enlist others to play and is accompanied by a jaunty, sprightly air. The display is usually reciprocated immediately. It is often interspersed with tumbling, tickling, chasing, wrestling, play-gnawing, and lip-smacking sounds.
We know the primate play-face as gaping in childlike wonderment. Our ability to gape has been reduced by our uptight attitudes and by excessive tension in the jaw. However, we can refurbish it. Recover yours because, in some ways, the play-face is better than the smile.
Illustration 25.1: A. Woman in awe; B. Chimpanzee play face; C. Baby excited.
Happy babies open their mouths wide when laughing. Socially defeated adults open their mouths the least. In my twenties, I wasn’t able to open my jaw fully, and trying to was painful. Any gaping would make my jaw creak and crack. Dropping my jaw in any social situation seemed like dropping my guard. Pairing gaping with diaphragmatic breathing for less than 30 minutes gave my jaw an oil change. It has never creaked or cracked since. Now that gaping feels natural, I feel less serious and more encouraged to have fun. Master your play face.
Become a Great Conversationalist
One of the best ways to play with and love others is through conversation. Unfortunately, most of us have learned to converse competitively. The conversational narcissist wants to keep the attention on themselves and control the conversation as much as possible. We are all narcissistic in this way, and we all see conversations as competitions to some extent. We pretend to listen but are really just thinking about what we want to say once we have found an opening or way to interrupt. This is like the mouse that always wants to be on top. Nobody wants to play with him.
Lavish your attention on the other speaker. Support their topics of choice. Question how you can get this person to open up further. What is their underlying interest? Keep asking “why” until you get to what they want to say but aren’t saying. “Why” helps you discover their motivations for speaking. It also helps to ask what, where, when, and who. Keep your interrogatives open-ended. They should act like bridges, not dead ends. Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Ask, “And what did you say next?” and “Then what happened?” Focus on positive topics and use the word “you” more than “I.” Turn “Yeah, but” into “Yes, and.” Separate asking for clarification from disagreement and separate debate from criticism.
Without empathic listening and anticipating the motivations of others, talking becomes socialized egoism. So, urge them to elaborate. Active listening involves engagement, empathy, and validation. Refer back to what they said earlier. Reiterate their point but put a spin on it. Use your knowledge to help them flesh out and provide evidence for their ideas and opinions. The more interested you are in them, the more interesting you will be to them. Make people feel like they matter. The more you treat them as mature, intelligent, and well-functioning, the more they will see those qualities in you.
Have you ever had a night out with a friend during which an absorbing conversation left you feeling deeply satisfied? Try to attain this kind of satisfaction for you and the other person during every conversation. Pursue a deep feeling of connection that makes the rest of the world feel less important. Good conversation is the primary form of social engagement for us humans, and the emotional connection it provides is one of the best ways to bond, play, and laugh. It is also a surefire way to activate the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system. Even simple things like brief face time, short chats, small talk, and meals with others are vital to our health. Maximize your time spent with people who make you feel good after being with them and try to be that person for others.
Practice Dancing as a Form of Play
Dancing is one of the best forms of play. It has been squelched for most of us due to social apprehension, self-inhibition, and contamination from distressed breathing. The following exercise will address this by teaching you to rest while dancing.
Savor Goosebumps to Strengthen the Response
The full-body tingling that you feel when you get goosebumps comes from a surge in endorphins. It is also known as the aesthetic chill response or frisson. This happens when you feel victorious, encounter something beautiful, hear a moving melody, or even when you find yourself strutting in the face of danger. The goosebumps on your skin come from the bristling of tiny hairs in a reaction called piloerection. It makes furry animals look bigger by forcing their hair to stand on end. This is responsible for the “raised hackles” on a surprised wolf, the plump tail of a cat before a fight, and for the bristling fur on a chimp that is marching around, putting on a dominance display.
There are ways to elicit the response deliberately. You can try listening to your favorite music, singing loudly and unabashedly, pant-hooting, partaking in “ASMR” via online videos, or by using the massage and caressing techniques discussed in Chapter 6. Another way to send a shiver up your spine is to combine the postural exercises from various chapters to walk around in public as if you have an “S” on your chest. Regardless, the best way to strengthen the bristling response is to savor it when it happens to you. Savoring a sensation in this way is often called “sensate focus.” Focus on extending the feeling and pass your hand over the gooseflesh to heighten the sensation. Like all positive feelings and emotions, every time you get goosebumps, relish the feeling and prepare yourself to welcome its return.
I wish I had a more reliable method of activating and strengthening the pleasure response because I believe it is very positive. But I can report that the frisson response is much more frequent in my life since I have been using the Program Peace exercises. I believe that the improvements that anti-rigidity has made to my posture played a large role. As your confidence increases, your charisma will start to give you goosebumps.
You Have Everything It Takes to Be Charismatic
I want you to develop charisma in the same way that you developed your dancing abilities in the section above. In other words, practice it under relaxed conditions, hitting all the beats without stopping. Assert your opinions in front of others with conviction and panache, and keep them rolling at a sustainable pace. This will unshackle you from all the bracing patterns that typically bar you from doing it fluidly.
To master charisma, you need to indulge in a little showmanship. You can never be the life of the party until you start trying. Hazard risks with a take-charge demeanor. Be fully present when speaking to people. Give them your full attention, and expect theirs. Don’t try too hard to impress people. Instead, focus on impressing yourself. Let your style and positivity make them want to impress you. Think of your social abilities as inexhaustible. Imagine that they replenish infinitely.
When you deliver a line or story and you feel like it fell flat, don’t let that get you down. Often, listeners just don’t know what to say in response. Don’t let their silence take away your momentum. If you keep hitting them with smooth deliveries, they will eventually show some appreciation.
To exhibit charisma, you need to act in a way that makes people think that it would be a good thing if you were in charge. You must show the competence of a leader. You want to come across as strong, decisive, and a person others can rely on for guidance. To do this, create a sense of constructive forward motion. As a leader, boss, or manager, express high performance expectations of the people around you, combined with confidence in their ability to meet those expectations. By having faith in others, you build their confidence in themselves, and in you. You want to send out indicators of alliance so people unconsciously assume that you like them, that you respect their opinion, that you will include them, and that you will back them up when it counts.
Did you know that psychologists generally consider optimism to be the key to charisma?16 Charisma is a set of nonverbal behaviors giving the impression that you have not only strength but also a positive attitude. It is a special mix of power and warmth that makes charismatic people influential, memorable, persuasive, and inspiring.
Caring for Others Will Make You Happier
Moral integrity is key to happiness. People who have ethical social habits are happier than people who do not. The first reason for this is that people are more likely to value you if they see you as a good person. Psychological research has found that the most important traits to increase your likability are trustworthiness, forthrightness, warmth, and kindness. So, choose your words politely, honor boundaries, compromise, show consideration, admit when you are wrong, honor your word, and show respect.
Get over your issues. Don’t be petty or vain. Don’t seek attention. Don’t be racist or sexist. Never hate anyone. Be a good sport and a good loser. Don’t say bad things behind people’s backs. Acknowledge other people’s contributions, helpful advice, and good decisions. State explicitly what they did to help you and how it helped. Acknowledge people’s success, no matter how small, and pay a compliment every time you notice something good. Don’t judge people. Be courteous. Ask whether you can lend a hand. Make an effort to be a friend. Remember that you must be a friend to have a friend.
The second reason why moral integrity will make you happier is it stimulates an old part of the brain responsible for tending and befriending. All mammalian brains have a care and nurturance system. This system initiates instinctual behaviors meant to take care of the young. In female rats, stimulation of this area promotes nest building, licking, grooming, arched-back nursing, hovering over pups, and gathering those that stray from the nest. Caring for young is as vital to reproductive success as obtaining food and sex. This is why it has similarly strong connections to the brain’s pleasure systems. In other words, instead of using food and sex to make yourself feel better, use nurturance.
When you care for others, you activate this brain system along with the related reward pathways. This is why nurturing others naturally produces endorphins. Helping others has been shown to protect against the harmful effects of life trauma. Volunteering after a natural disaster, protecting others during an attack, caretaking, community service, and becoming a peer counselor have all been shown to reduce stress. It quiets the amygdala and decreases inflammation. It is sometimes called the “helper’s high.” People who volunteer in any capacity have lower rates of heart disease and stroke, lower mortality risk, less depression, and an increased sense of purpose. Activating the brain’s nurturance system also subdues the defeat response because they are inherently incompatible. Be a good, kind person; the best person you can be. Dig up all the good that you want in your life from within your own heart.
Practice Being Pure of Heart
Being pure of heart has a reciprocal relationship with being free of nasty thoughts. Seeing yourself as wholesome and virtuous is the quickest route to becoming free from negative rumination. Repeatedly ask yourself whether your actions are noble and pure. Holding yourself to high standards sounds like an adult burden but will make you a kid at heart.
Goku from the original Dragon Ball comic and TV show is a small, naïve child who doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. He has a trusty cloud (Flying Nimbus) that he rides like a magic carpet. Only people who are pure of heart can ride the cloud. Billy Batson is another small boy, this time from the world of DC comics, whose purity allows him to take on the mantle of the superhero Shazam. Thor from the Marvel universe has worthiness that enables him to lift Mjolnir, his enchanted hammer. I have asked myself on many occasions, “Would I be able to ride that cloud, don that cape, or lift that hammer?” Would you?
Let us practice indiscriminate and promiscuous kindness. Let us do this not to be rewarded but because it is the right thing. I like the saying that tells us, “Love the one that you are with.” I take this injunction further to mean that you should love whoever you find yourself with at any moment. Love thy neighbor. Love thine enemy. Use “agape,” which is the Greco-Christian term for selfless, unbiased, non-possessive, universal love. Or, experiment with using the “unconditional positive regard” that many psychotherapists use with their clients.17 When your primary aim is to broadcast goodwill, you act much less defensive and your composure quotient will soar. Thus, a pure, lighthearted mentality not only gives you access to the moral high ground but will also affect many minutiae of your body language and microexpressions, improving your overall aura. This is the bravery of the innocent.
The key to being popular is to like more people. Research has shown that likable people like others. On average, the most-liked people like larger numbers of people and they like those people more.18 So, forgive those you feel have wronged you. Forgive your parents, siblings, all your family and friends. Then, forgive everyone else from your past and present, and even your future. Forgive people from every walk of life. Forgive the rich, the poor, all sides of the political spectrum. Forgive humanity, then fate, and then the entire universe. Have no fear of rejection from others, have no need to be accepted. Be able to say “I love you” with no regret. Cherish yourself and your body the way it is and know that you, along with everyone else, are absolutely worthy of being loved.
Human kindness is the surest step toward deep healing from any kind of trauma. Expect only good from others and project this expectation in the form of positive overtures. People won’t be able to help but respond to you in positive ways, and their responses will reinforce your view of the world as a pleasant place, further entrenching your expectations. If you work hard at becoming pure of heart, you will earn your way to peace. Combined with altruistic acts, you’ll find pleasure. And, combined with assertiveness and composure, you will find power.
I used to have a stinging pain in my chest that would surface during stress. It was healed after I made a deliberate effort to be pure of heart. The notion that I had pure intentions reassured some last bastion of muscles in my thorax that they could stop their defensive bracing. I could feel these muscles release. And, because they could finally relax, I was able to bring them to a full contraction using exercises such as the coughing, laughing, pant-hoot, and diaphragmatic stretching exercises. Being pure of heart is the most foolproof way to ensure that you are breathing easily, and I consider it the eighth and final tenet of optimal breathing.
Most people have a secret fear of being bad or having done things for which they can never atone. But it is never too late to start being pure of heart. You can do it at any point in time. Start now. As you take on the Program Peace system, I recommend that you imagine yourself turning over a new leaf. Decide to let go of the regret, shame, and guilt you have carried with you from past misdeeds and mistakes. Turn any ounce of self-hatred that you may harbor into self-forgiveness. Guilt keeps us from becoming good people, so use your participation here as an excuse to get rid of it. Purify your heart by allowing yourself to make it a clean slate.
Trauma has made it difficult to be cool, playful, humorous, and pure of heart. By removing the trauma, you will make these things much easier. See yourself as going from afflicted to blessed. See yourself as principled, incorruptible, and salt of the earth. When you think “pure of heart” think dominant but non-dominating. Think non-subordinate but non-aggressive. Think assertive but lighthearted. Having faith in your goodness is the key to making optimism and relaxation possible. Know that what you’re doing comes from a good place with other people’s best interests in mind. As long as you know that you mean right by others, you don’t have to worry about offending them with your composure. Expect yourself to be pure of heart in everything you do and conceive of your life from here on to be a hero’s journey.
Chapter Twenty-Five: Bullet Points
- Treat everyone as if they are the least awkward person you have ever met.
- There are so many ways to be endearing. There’s no need to forfeit your composure or health to do so.
- Creating a “pure of heart” mindset will make many of your troubles disappear.
- When mammals are playful, they are truly wonderful creatures.
- You can directly reduce stress by stimulating the play and nurturance areas of your brain. To do this, you must be playful with and nurture others.
- The “feel good” neurochemicals like endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin derive from kind behavior. Nature endorses morality.
- Remember that real virtue does not complement itself and is not even aware of itself as a virtue.
- Laughing exercises will give you a bold laugh and fortify your innards.
- Every laugh should almost sound antagonistic, as if you were laughing at someone, but only because it is assertive and unaffected by submissive tendencies.
- A night full of fake laughing and smiling will increase the tension you feel the next morning. And yet, one minute of genuine, unadulterated laughing can relieve all that strain.
- Self-stimulating happiness is key to perpetuating your upward developmental spiral.
- Self-amusement is very healthy and a trait of dominant people.
- Feel free to be silly.
- Act like every day is your birthday and every night is Saturday night.
- When you are mistreated, think of it as an opportunity for personal growth. Consciously deciding to under-react to negativity is regarded by many to be the most powerful way to achieve spiritual growth.
- Hermann, H. R. (2017). Dominance and aggression in humans and other animals: The great game of life. Academic Press.
- Snyder, C. R. & Lopez, S. J. (2009). Oxford handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.
- Taylor, S. E, & Armor, D. A. (1996). Positive illusions and coping with adversity. Journal of Personality, 64(4), 873–898; Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. E., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2010). Optimism. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 879–889.
- Scheier, M. E., Weintraub, J. K., & Carver, C. S. (1986). Coping with stress: Divergent strategies of optimism and pessimists. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(6), 1257–1264.
- Frederickson, B. L., & Levenson, R. (1998). Positive emotions speed recovery from the cardiovascular sequelae of negative emotions. Cognition & Emotion, 12(2), 191–220.
- Wohr, M., & Schwarting, R. K. W. (2007). Ultrasonic communication in rats: Can playback of 50-kHz calls induce approach behavior? PLoS ONE, 2(12), e1365.
- Simonet, P., Versteeg, D. & Storie, D. (2005, July 31-August 5). Dog-laughter: Recorded playback reduces stress related behavior in shelter dogs [Paper presentation]. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Environmental Enrichment.
- Panksepp, J. (December 2000). The riddle of laughter neural and psychoevolutionary underpinnings of joy. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(6), 183–186.
- Provine, R. R. (2000). Laughter: A scientific exploration. Viking.
- Folkman, S., & Nathan, P. E. (2010), The Oxford handbook of stress, health, and coping. Oxford University Press.
- Godfrey, J. R. (2004). Toward optimal health: The experts discuss therapeutic humor. Journal of Women’s Health, 13(5), 474–479.
- Dunbar, R. I. M. (2017). Group size, vocal grooming and the origins of language. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 24, 209–212.
- Dunbar, R. I. M., Baron, R., Frangou, A., Eiluned, P., van Leeuwen, E. J. C., Stow, J., Partridge, G., MacDonald, I., Barra, V., & van Vugt, M. (2012). Social laughter is correlated with an elevated pain threshold. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Biological Sciences, 279(1731), 1161–1167.
- Dunbar, R. I. M. (2017). Group size, vocal grooming and the origins of language.
- Wohr, M., Kehl, M., Borta, A., Schanzer, A., Schwarting, R. K., & Hoglinger, G. U. (2009). New insights into the relationship of neurogenesis and affect: Tickling induces hippocampal cell proliferation in rats emitting appetitive 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations. Neuroscience, 163(4), 1024–1030..
- Van Edwards, V. (2017). Captivate: The science of succeeding with people. Penguin Random House.
- Rogers, C. (1980). A way of being. Houghton Mifflin.
- Sanders, T. (2005). The likability factor. Crown.