Happy? Pretend until you do

Smile. Even if you don’t feel it yet, you will.

Perhaps most about National Smile Day today is a 2020 study from the University of South Australia published in the journal Experimental Psychology. He’s found that just moving your facial muscles to form a smile – even if you’re pretending – generates positive emotions and improves mood, at least for a while.

It’s like fooling your brain. Just as simple repetitions of physical therapy can do all kinds of body magic, exercise also works for the mind.

In this case, using the muscles of the face.

“When your muscles say you’re happy, you’re more likely to view the world around you in a positive way,” said lead researcher Dr. Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos.

Science supports the “as if” approach. While we’re used to telling ourselves that mental outlook affects our physical state, research confirms that the connection also goes the other way, from body to mind.

Consider two examples from a 2003 Ohio State University study: When participants simply nodded in agreement or shook their heads to signal disagreement and measured their opinions later, they were surprised to learn. that head movements impacted their opinions. The same study also showed that when participants hugged, some were able to reduce the pain they felt.

Dutch behavior scientist Erik Peper has studied the effects of movement on happiness. He found that better posture (sitting upright) led participants to report more positive memories and responses than those with poor posture.

Researchers have long known that sagging shoulders and focusing on disappointments release a cocktail of chemicals into the bloodstream that make us feel even worse. In short, when we “act like”, positive or negative, the rest of the body / mind apparently follows suit.

The simple act of improving body posture, slowing down and deepening breathing patterns to reduce muscle tension, or altering facial and even verbal expressions releases a wave of “good” chemicals that can alter our internal state and make us feel better emotionally.

Just like smiling.

Research by New York neurologist Dr Isha Gupta, reported by NBC in 2017, also found that the simple act of smiling increases the body’s levels of feel-good hormones, dopamine and serotonin. Conversely, low levels of serotonin correlate with depression and aggression.

The University of South Australia experience illustrated how a “fake” smile can affect the way we can perceive the faces and body language of others.

A smile was induced in the participants by holding a pen between their teeth, forcing their facial muscles to mimic the movement of a smile. They and the non-smiles have seen videos with all kinds of facial expressions and body movements. The smile pens interpreted the expressions and movements of others as more positive, compared to the “without pen” group.


Even a fake smile stimulates the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center, releasing neurotransmitters that make us feel emotionally positive. Research suggests that if the brain can be made to perceive stimuli as happy, it can be an additional tool in relieving anxiety or depression.

Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard, author of the 2006 bestseller “Stumbling on Happiness,” shared the results of his research review and others with the Harvard Business Review in 2012. Things will get us. In short, we tend to overestimate the power of big events and underestimate the influence of small things on happiness.

The result: While the big things can make us happy, it’s the little things that make us happy. Like smile.

Yes, people in romantic relationships do feel happier, even if it’s more fleeting than we often expect. And it is true that people who are not poor or sick feel happier. No wonder less major struggles make life easier.

But what we tend to overestimate, says Gilbert, are events. The new job, the A in a final exam, the promotion, the boat, the best house. These happy feelings last from a few days to a few months. Even new relationships, in most cases, aren’t the predictors of happiness that we imagine they will be.

On the other hand, we are also resilient. People are pretty good at finding silver liners after tragedies. Losing a job or a career can lead to a more suitable job with less stress, and so on. Personal loss can also bring transformative thinking, a focus on what is most important.

Gilbert says if there is one outward predictor of longer lasting happiness, it’s social. Man is relationship oriented. We need a community, whether that community is made up of friends, family, work, volunteer, the biggest planet to connect with – whatever. Without nurturing this element, happiness is much more difficult to achieve or maintain.

And day to day, it’s about little things.

Psychologist, professor at the University of Utah and editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Ed Diener has accumulated a wealth of knowledge on the subject of happiness. He writes that research shows that the daily frequency of positive experiences is a much better predictor of happiness than the intensity of those experiences.

In other words, hugging more, really enjoying that fry, or just listening to the morning birdsong (and yes, smile) as many times as possible each day is more likely to make us happy than any grown-up. event.

“In the sweetness of friendship there is laughter and the sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of small things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. – Kahlil Gibran


Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who needed a refresher today. Send an email to [email protected]

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