5 Small Risks That Can Improve Your Life in Big Ways

Living on the edge feels good. Even the smallest of risks is scientifically proven to increase your enjoyment of whatever activity you're engaged in. Intrigued? Read on for our roundup of some small, specific small risks we suggest everybody consider taking.

What have you really got to lose?

1. Buy a Lottery Ticket

Your chances of winning the Powerball jackpot are about one in 175 million. But some social psychologists say you should do it anyway. That's because the benefit most of us get from playing the lotto has a lot more to do with the fantasy of winning money than the actual attainment of wealth.

"The lottery lets you believe in magic: that you will be the one who spent a little and got a lot; that you will defy the extraordinary odds against winning," reads an excerpt from a Psychology Today article titled "Lottery-itis!" It's that "Oh, the things I could buy, the places I'd go!" fantasy that grants us relief — albeit fleeting — from the stresses, conflicts, and perceived financial roadblocks in our real lives. In fact, neuroscientists have found that the prospect of winning the lottery activates the same brain circuits that would be triggered if we discovered that we actually possessed the winning ticket. "Our pleasure of living is not only based on our current situation, but what could be, what we can imagine our situation could become," behavioral decision making researcher George Loewenstein says.

2. Conquer a Fear

Turns out that facing our fears really works. Research shows when we expose ourselves to the thing that unnerves us — be it a gigantic, hairy spider or a red-nosed clown — we actually help to reduce our fear of that very thing. The results can be truly liberating. So if you're afraid of spiders, go to a zoo that will let you hold one. If it's heights that make you squeamish, go cliff jumping in a safe, designated area. Life is too short to let irrational fears keep you from living vibrantly. (See also: Do You Have Any of These 4 Most Irrational Fears?)

3. Talk to a Stranger

Strike up a friendly conversation with a stranger in line at the coffee shop or on public transit during your morning commute. Sure, they might avert their eyes, pretend they can't hear you, or worse — tell you to get lost. But other than that, you haven't got much to lose.

Now let's talk about the benefits. Behavioral scientists say initiating positive interactions with people whose gazes we might otherwise avoid evokes higher happiness levels in both parties. So long as the stranger you choose is willing to chit chat, it's a guaranteed way to jumpstart both of your days.

4. Voice an Unpopular Opinion

Filling your mind with worries about what other people think of you can drain your energy. So don't. Be your own judge of approval. And don't shy away from voicing your opinion or speaking your truth. Sure, your words might be met with silence, eye-rolls, or even resentment. But as mind-body medicine physician Lissa Rankin describes, the alternative can be much worse.

"When you squelch what is true for you, the body releases harmful stress hormones that raise your blood pressure, elevate your heart rate, and weaken your immune system," Rankin said. "When you speak what's true, the body relaxes, your muscles stop tensing, your blood pressure lowers, your pulse slows, your happy hormones get jump started."

5. Quit Your Job

Quitting your job may not seem like a small risk, but let us put it in perspective. Most Americans are unhappy in the workplace. What's more, research shows that people who work in hostile environments are more likely to die sooner than those who work in atmospheres that are more favorable. So if you've ever said, "My job is killing me!" — read on. Holding on to a job that drives us mad is known to provoke aches, stress, and signs of depression. And while putting in your two-weeks notice could put your financial stability on the the line, we hope you'd agree that it's a slightly better alternative to an early death. Besides, the rewards of landing a new, energizing gig that makes you feel valued and worthwhile are well worth the gamble, especially when considering what another few years at your current job could do to your physical and mental health.

Have you ever taken a small risk and gotten a big reward? Tell us about it in comments!

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