Seeing the brighter side of life doesn't always come easy to everyone. But what if you could trick your brain into thinking positive thoughts? According to a recent study there are several ways of accomplishing this to help support a positive mind and mood that can influence an overall healthier lifestyle.
Neutral, Duchenne and Chopsticks
Because of the close connection that the mind and body share, researchers wanted to investigate what extent physical signals from the body could influence the mind. Their study centered on smiling. It's already known that feeling good can make you react with a smile, but can forcing a smile, in-turn, make you feel good? To test this hypothesis, researcher Tara Kraft from the University of Kansas gathered 169 participants and trained the volunteers to maintain three separate facial expressions: a neutral expression, a standard smile, and a more empathetic smile called the Duchenne smile, achieved by holding chopsticks in their mouths. While only half the participants were told to smile, researchers explained that having chopsticks in their mouths forced the volunteers to smile without being aware that they were doing so. All of the subjects then participated in stress-inducing tasks such as submerging their hands in ice-cold water and tracing a star with their non-dominant hand while looking at a reflection of the shape in a mirror.
A Smile for Science
Results showed that those who were instructed to smile, (in particular, those who had the Duchenne smiles) had lower heart rates when performing the tasks than those who had neutral expressions. Even those who were unknowingly forced into smiling with the chopsticks in their mouths had a slightly lower heart rate than those who wore neutral expressions. The results, soon to be published in the journal, Psychological Science, give validity to the theory that even a forced smile positively influences the mind into a better mood and can improve other important areas such as stress and heart health. Kraft's research partner, Sarah Pressman, even suggested an everyday application to this theory. "The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment," she said.
A Pose for Positive Moods
While a smile may be the easiest way to spontaneously support a good mood there are other poses that have been shown to help support a positive frame of mind. For instance, one study showed that opening up one's body to occupy more space in what's called a "high-power pose" can have positive mental effects and alter hormone levels, too. Those who held high-power poses were more willing to gamble or take risks, pointing to a higher level of confidence and more positive frame of mind. While meditation has long been linked to promoting a sound mind and mood, a 2008 study published in the journal, PLOS ONE, sought to investigate the benefits that yoga poses have on mental well-being. The study showed that breathing mechanisms and relaxed body posture can also help clear the mind and support lower stress levels.
Taking Control of Your Moods
Maintaining a healthy mood shouldn't be thought of as some insurmountable challenge. Everyone has their ups and downs, and understanding the little things you can do throughout your day can help to provide an instant mood boost. Now that you know how powerful your smile can be, use it wisely and often!