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SOUNDS ODD  by Elizabeth Holmes
Fun Facts on the Science of Sound

8. Come On, Get Happy! Here's Why ...

In honor of the traditional blessing we bestow on each other at this time of year – Happy New Year! – here’s some food for thought from the field of positive psychology.   
Note: If you are unfamiliar with this branch of psychology, think of it as the flip-side of the pathology of human behavior. Instead of studying why things go wrong in our lives, positive psychologists study why things go right. 
Let’s start with the popular notion that "Success leads to happiness.” It turns out that we need to flip this idea around. In fact, the opposite is true: "Happiness leads to success.”  

Recent studies in the field of positive psychology have confirmed that:
  • Happiness improves our physical health,
  • Happiness improves our earning potential,
  • Happiness improves our creativity,
  • Happiness improves our ability to think clearly and accurately, and
  • Happiness prolongs our lives.  

"…Happiness gives us a real chemical edge on the competition,” says author Shawn Achor in his book The Happiness Advantage.
"How? Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good, but dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels. They help us organize new information, keep that information in the brain longer, and retrieve it faster later on.
"And, they enable us to make and sustain more neural connections, which allows us to think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving, and see and invent new ways of doing things.”  

If you’re not ‘naturally happy,’ don’t despair. Happiness can be learned! 

Achor cites the following ways to improve our moods and raise our levels of happiness. These techniques have been verified in multiple studies:  

Find something to look forward to.

  • Anticipating rewards activates the same parts of the brain as actually receiving rewards.
  • Examples: Imagine a gathering with your favorite people or think about your favorite movie.
Use a signature strength.
  • Every time we do something we’re good at, we experience a burst of positivity.
  • To discover your natural strengths, check out these tests:,_Discover_Your_Strengths  
Make your surroundings more positive.
  • Decorate your studio with photos or objects that lift your mood.
  • Take a walk in nature.
  • Unplug from agitating entertainment.  People who watch less TV (particularly less crime, tragedy and death), tend to judge life’s risks and rewards more accurately and be less depressed, says Achor.  
Commit conscious acts of kindness.
  • Hold the door open for the person right behind you.
  • Send a colleague an encouraging e-mail.
  • Smile at strangers.  
  • Endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that flood our brains when our hearts get pumping, are nature’s natural mood-lifters.
  • In one study, depressed patients who exercised at least 45 minutes per week experienced significant improvement for up to six weeks longer than their meds-only counterparts.      
  • Scientists have identified the left prefrontal cortex of our brains as the part that is most responsible for feeling happy. People who’ve spent years meditating have larger prefrontal cortexes than the rest of us.
  • Regular meditation permanently rewires our brains to lower stress and improve immune function.
  • Even five minutes a day of meditation makes a difference. It improves concentration and makes us calmer.
Study after study confirms that happiness really is an advantage in most endeavors. Plus, (dare I say it?), it just feels better! Don’t believe me? Consider this:   

Students who took tests that were critical to their advancement and future opportunities consistently outperformed their peers when they thought about the happiest day of their lives just before their exams.  


See if you don’t improve your audition win-ratio using this technique, similar to the pre-exam boost the students used in the study above. 

I stumbled across this a couple of years ago when I did a call-back with a production company I really wanted to work with. (And yes, I got the gig!)  

Before you perform your next audition, listen to your favorite upbeat music. It will raise your mood, boost your confidence, and inspire a superior performance. I listen to the same music on my ‘long drive home’ to counter post-audition doubts, but I’m still figuring out the whole "It’s selection, not rejection” thing. 

Experiment with lifting your mood before and after your auditions. It may help with the roller-coaster nature of winning and losing voice-acting jobs.  

Seriously.  In 2013, think about putting more Happy in your New Year. You’ll be glad you did.  The rewards are enormous.    

For more on the science of happiness, read The Happiness Advantage – The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor. Achor’s advice has been rigorously tested in both academic (Harvard) and international commercial settings, he writes well, and he’s funny.  Recommended reading for your voice over business – and for your life!    

Elizabeth Holmes is a writer, voice actor, and staff editor at VoiceOverXtra, based in Northern California. She is also editor of VoiceOverXtra's book division, including Voice Over Legal, by voice actor / attorney Robert Sciglimpaglia. For earlier columns in this series, please type "Sounds Odd" in the SEARCH box at the top of this web page.


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Comments (2)
Dave Roberts
12/27/2012 at 7:27 PM
Yes, I agree everybody needs a little "Julie Andrews" in their daily lives, but I wouldn't take it over the top! I've got two sisters and a mother-in-law who think every minute of the day should be "Hunkey Dorey," "Absolutely wonderful," and they gush "gooey" happiness all day long.

But, I dare say, the world's not built on continuous joy. Bring up the subjects of politics, religion, cancer, Newtown, World Wars 1&2, and their eyes glaze over...and they run in the opposite direction. Yes, embrace the world to be a wonderful place, but also embrace it's spell-bindingly horrific moments as well.

My wife is an Episcopal Preacher, The Right Reverend Patricia Roberts. She always preached to believe in the good, but there is bad, and there is ugly...therefore you must live your life, "real." I'm not complainin' I'm just sayin.' It's like the Beatles lyric: "And in the end...the love you take is equal to the love you make." Dave.
jennifer m dixon
12/27/2012 at 1:18 AM
Love it, Elizabeth! Only one little thing I would change here is - Start right now - don't wait another moment. Just Be Happy!
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