Happiness tips: Use the power of your autonomic nervous system
A smile can directly impact how we experience the world.
What we do influences how we feel. By changing our facial expressions, and the way we stand, we can change our emotional state. By smiling we can feel happier. By standing up straight we feel, and look, more confident. Happiness tips help us remember to do the little things that together make a difference.
Feel-good by smiling
In 2002 Professor Soussignan (University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne) designed a study where 96 female under-graduates held a pencil between their teeth in a variety of different ways. They were asked to hold the pencil in their teeth without smiling (pouting); in the teeth while “fake smiling”(exposing their teeth but not raising their cheeks); or in their teeth with an authentic smile (cheeks raised, reaching their eyes). The result was those who smiled with raised cheeks rated themselves as happiest. Those who frowned felt sadder.
Dr Lewis, a psychologist at Cardiff University has some great happiness tips, he found in his studies that by smiling we put ourselves in a happier mood. It seems that the way we feel emotions isn’t just restricted to our brain; our muscles and expressions help to reinforce the feelings we’re having. A study in Germany found that when scanned by fMRI machines Botox subjects, who were asked to mimic angry faces, had lower activity in the amygdala and hypothalamus than the control subjects who had not received Botox. The amygdala and hypothalamus are the brain circuits involved in emotional processing and responses.
Feel-bad from frowning
Similarly, a study published in May 2008 in the Journal of Pain showed people who frown during an unpleasant procedure reported feeling more pain than those who did not. In the study researchers applied direct heat to the forearms of 29 participants who either frowned, kept neutral, or smiled. Those asked to make negative facial expressions reported being in more pain than the other two groups.
Our autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems, send impulses from our sensory organs and muscles to the controlling centres in the brain (hypothalamus). The system works both ways. Smile and the brain creates feel-good chemicals (endorphins) and we feel happier. Frown and the brain creates feel-bad chemicals (cortisol) and you feel stressed.
Try this for yourself: lower your eyebrows, raise your upper eyelid, narrow the eyelids and press your lips together. As you hold this expression you will begin to feel anger. The next time you’re feeling sad and want to feel happier hold a pen between your teeth, and don’t let it touch your lips. This forces a smile. If you hold it for 5 minutes or so you will find yourself feeling happier. Then try standing up tall, walking with long strides and looking straight ahead. You will be amazed at how fast your posture and facial expressions can change your emotions.
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