Want To Cheer Up? Endorphin Your Face

by DavalosMcCormack on September 7, 2010

Wouldn’t it be great if we could feel the way we want to feel by pretending we already feel that way! Sound odd? Perhaps a little, but that does not mean it’s not possible. If Laughter Yoga can make you feel as happy as if you had just had a great big belly laugh simply by pretending you had a great big belly laugh, then why can’t we ‘trick’ our brains into feeling happier just be pretending we are happier.

When Shirley’s girls were growing up they would sometimes get out of bed in a less than jovial mood. OK, she says there were mornings when they were downright cranky. So she would tell them “Endorphin your face”. In other words pretend to smile. She would make her girls pretend to smile and sure enough, before too long, they were actually smiling – or at the very least not scowling. Somehow Shirley discovered that the act of pretending to be happy was often enough to help make you happy.

Now, clearly this won’t work every time for everyone. There are days when the sheer weight of your woes cannot be shaken by faking a grin. But often we can break through the gloom by the simple physical act of smiling, even if we don’t feel very cheerful.

The joy of a smile

The buddhist writer and thinker Thich Nhat Hanh captured the idea beautifully when he said “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Fake smiles may trick the brain

It’s not just wishful thinking. There is actually quite a bit of research on this topic – including some done by psychologist Robert Zajonc and  his colleagues – that shows that smiling can bring about measurable physiological changes that make you feel happier. Equally important is that frowning also produces measurable physiological changes that can make you feel sad and grumpy.

So, if you are feeling glum and walking around with a frown on your face you are in essence creating a feedback loop that sends signals to your brain to be even more sad and grumpy. Nice eh!

What’s equally interesting is that those changes seem to be independent of whether the smile is actually generated by a happy event or memory, or just generated by someone pretending to be happy.

Another study found that when people contorted their faces to suggest fear, their body temperatures increased and their pulse sped up.

So does this mean that you should go around all the time with a fake grin on your face? Probably not a good idea. You might make yourself feel a little happier, but you’ll scare everyone else around you. On the other hand, it would be sort of funny to see everyone smiling, uh…maybe not.

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