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Act “as if”

“Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen”
-Marge Piercy

For many years I worked in a grocery store, behind the check stand, on my feet eight hours a day, checking out people’s groceries. Oftentimes, I wouldn’t feel like being at work but it was necessary to put a smile on my face and be nice to the customers. I found when I was smiling and cheerful, even though I didn’t feel like it, by the end of the day I’d feel much better. Now there is scientific evidence to back it up. In fact, one of the happiness strategies identified by Sonja Lyubomirsky in The How of Happiness is ‘act as if’. She says: “Remarkably, pretending that you’re happy—smiling, engaged, mimicking energy and enthusiasm—not only earn you some of the benefits of happiness (returned smiles, strengthened friendships, successes at work and school) but can actually make you happier.”

One of my favorite scientific studies, which I often speak about in class, is the use of Botox to cure depression. Here are the details of the study:

The participants were ten clinically depressed patients whose depressions had not responded to treatment by either drugs or psychotherapy. In other words, nothing had worked. They all were women, thirty-six to sixty-three years of age, and they had been depressed for periods ranging from two to seventeen years. All the patients were administered muscle-paralyzing botulinum toxin A—aka Botox—to their frown lines (on the bridge of the nose, between the eyebrows, and slightly above them). Two months later, nine out of the ten participants were no longer depressed, and the tenth had much improved. Although it comes from an admittedly preliminary study, this is a stunning finding. Undoubtedly, removal of the frown lines makes other people perceive you as happier (and more attractive), and as this investigation shows, people actually do feel happier. (Lyubomirsky, pg. 252-253)

For an online article about the study go to:

The theory is called “facial feedback” and it is the idea that our facial expressions influence what we feel. The basic principle is that there is feedback from the body to the brain so the brain always knows what the body is doing. It’s the same idea as taking three deep breaths when you are anxious or stressed about something, it gives your brain a different message.

Have you experienced this phenomenon? I’m excited to hear your stories…