One of the biggest obstacles to feeling happier that people often point to is that they just don't feel happy. It either happens or it doesn't, sort of like the weather. That's what we tend to think, anyway. It's not clear how happiness started to be seen this way, as somehow out of our personal control, but what isclear is that science continues to prove this belief wrong. There really are small and easy ways we can increase our own happiness.
And while most people can see the wisdom in things like "do something nice for yourself" or "develop a gratitude habit" most people resist the idea of what I often call Fake It 'Til You Make It--physical changes proven to bring about happier emotions. They may seem counterintuitive actions to take when you're feeling down, but they really work.
1. Smile! Sure, you feel like a phony if you smile when you're unhappy, but if you look at the research and see that forming a smile--genuine or not--actually boosts your feelings of well-being over time, maybe you'll feel differently. It's not just that happiness makes you smile, it's also that smiling can make you happier. People who've gotten Botox injections (to get that nice smooth, youthful look) are scientifically proven to be happier overall -- maybe in part because they can't frown like their non-Botoxed counterparts. Again, emotions create facial expressions, but it works the other way around, too. Once you realize that "turning that frown upside down" isn't just a platitude, it may inspire you to give it a try.
2. Straighten up. Just as our emotions come through in our facial expressions, our bodies also tend to reflect our mental state. We describe people as "downtrodden" or "carrying the weight of the world" because negative feelings affect our posture. Sadness and stress bring slumped shoulders, downcast gaze, and a tendency to make ourselves smaller overall. Research into how posture affects our emotions is pretty clear: simply sitting up or standing up straighter, with an elongated spine, more open chest position, and a raised gaze has mood-brightening results. Now that we're all spending significant portions of our day hunched over computers and smartphones, depression is on the rise. Sure, some of it may be due to more complicated factors such as replacing real-time human contact with electronic substitutes, but our bad posture alone is partially responsible for our shift in mood. If you want to feel happier, let your spine lead the way! Carry yourself straight and tall, and you'll not only look better, you'll feel better.
3. Just breathe. Did you know that we actually breathe differently depending on our mood? It may sound kind of woo-woo, but it's not. You already know that the way you breathe when you're stressed and panicked is different from the way you breathe when you're calm and relaxed. Well, it turns out that there's such a thing as typical happy breathing. What's more, just as you can flip around smiling and great posture to produce happier feelings, the same can be done with the way you breathe. A 2010 study showed emotional states can be created by breathing patterns, and the great news is that it's not complicated and it doesn't require incense or a gong or anything. Feeling down? Check your breathing. Deep, slow breaths--the kind that you can feel in your abdomen, rather than the kind that raise your chest--are the way to create feelings of calm and well-being. Breathe like you're already feeling good, and soon enough, you will.
The best thing about these simple ways to boost your happiness is that all of them can be done quickly and easily and you can feel their positive effects almost instantly. You can always take a deep breath, stand a little taller, or try on a smile. The more you fake it 'til you make it, the more natural it will begin to feel. And pretty soon, you'll be happier, which means you won't be faking it anymore. Pretty awesome.
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