Scientists examined what happened when people engaged in fake smiling, an activity also known as "surface acting." They also examined what happened when the same people engaged in "deep acting," a genuine smile. On days when smiles were forced, the participants' moods got worse and they tended to withdraw from work.
The New York Times reports:
"Trying to suppress negative thoughts, it turns out, may have made those thoughts even more persistent ... Women were affected more than men."
Positive emotions can have a powerful effect on your physical health and well-being. Happiness can not only protect your body from stressors that can lead to coronary heart disease, it can also boost your immune system's ability to fight off the common cold, and laughter has even been shown to make breast milk healthier. Happy people also tend to live longer, and enjoy more fulfilling relationships.
Smiling is more or less synonymous with "happiness," or at least an open, friendly demeanor—which is why "putting on a smile" is generally recommended, particularly at work.
But what happens if you force it?
And, how can you get from faking it to actually feeling it?
Below, I'll offer some suggestions on how to cultivate positive emotions, and a simple technique that can help you get unstuck when you're caught in a loop of negative or fearful thinking that you can't seem to break out of.
Why "Fake it 'Til You Make it" May Not Work When it Comes to Hiding Your Unhappiness
According to researchers at Michigan State University, faking it till you make it might work in some areas but when it comes to authentic smiling, faking it actually makes you more unhappy.
The New York Times reports:
"New research suggests that it may have unexpected consequences: worsening your mood and causing you to withdraw from the tasks at hand."
The researchers came to this conclusion by tracking a group of bus drivers for two weeks and comparing the emotional effects of "surface smiling," or fake smiling, with "deep acting"—which is when you generate a genuine smile by thinking positive thoughts or focusing on positive memories.
According to the Michigan State University press release:
"Women were harmed more by surface acting, meaning their mood worsened even more than the men, and they withdrew more from work... But they were helped more by deep acting...
Previous research suggests women are both expected to and do show greater emotional intensity and positive emotional expressiveness than men. Thus, faking a smile while still feeling negative emotion conflicts with this cultural norm and may cause even more harmful feelings in women..."
Cultivating Happiness... How is it Done?
Smiling and laughing is an outward sign of inner happiness, but if you're not happy, how can you change your inner landscape to avoid having to fake it?
It may be helpful to remember that happiness doesn't depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends solely upon what you think.
This is part of the power of affirmations.
For example, starting each day by thinking of all the things you have to be thankful for is one way to put your mind on the right track. Also remember that your future depends largely on the thoughts you think today. So each moment of every day is an opportunity to turn your thinking around, thereby helping or hindering your ability to think and feel more positively in the very next moment.
Most experts agree that there are no shortcuts to happiness. Even generally happy people do not experience joy 24 hours a day. But a happy person can have a bad day and still find pleasure in the small things in life.
Postponing your happiness until you reach a certain goal, like getting a promotion or pay raise to go on vacation is a sure-fire way to stay stuck in misery. Instead, consciously spend a few minutes every day thinking about the good things in your life, such as eating a balanced meal or getting enough rest. Practice this every day and, each day, try to extend the time you spend on positive thoughts.
Additionally, while there is no rule or special formula that can make a person constantly happy, happiness tends to come more easily when you focus on developing positive social relationships and enjoyable work, and have a sense that life has meaning. Overall, having a spiritual dimension tends to be an essential component of happiness for most people.
How to Get Unstuck if You're Caught in a Loop of Fear and Negativity
Simply taking the time to focus on the positive and be thankful for the good things in your life can help, but if you are struggling with negative emotions that you just can't seem to overcome, there are tools that can help.
My favorite is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which is commonly used in my practice to help patients address all kinds of negative emotions—regardless of their source.
EFT is a form of energy psychology.
By gently tapping your fingers on certain spots on your face and body, you can induce an energetic and cognitive shift. For the basic steps, including pictures demonstrating the correct tapping points, please see my EFT page.
A cognitive shift occurs when you reframe the problem. By seeing the problem from a new angle, you will often experience new insight. These energetic movements can open new pathways for healing, without spending hours rehashing the past.
Following a cognitive shift, you often feel less guilt and self-blame, more hope, or a simple sense of relief in an area where you've never felt relief before.
EFT can be used to treat deep limiting beliefs, fears of the future, fear of success, fear of failure, anxiety about expectations, poor body image and anything else you can think of. You can also radically improve the effectiveness of your affirmations by combining them with EFT.
When is the Best Time to Say Your Affirmations and Do EFT?
For greatest effectiveness, you'll want to say your affirmations every morning upon waking, every night when you go to bed, and every time you go to the bathroom (preferably when standing in front of the mirror. This is even more powerful if you combine it with EFT tapping as your energy will be reflected off the mirror, which adds a profound synergism.)
By training yourself to say your affirmation at these times and in these locations, you're more likely to make them a habitual part of your life.
It is especially important to tap and say your affirmations before you go to sleep. This is probably the single most important time to do it, because when you tap before you go to bed you will give your subconscious anywhere from 6-8 hours to integrate. If you find prayer a helpful resource, like I do, you can integrate your prayer into the EFT sequences as well. I believe that will help dramatically increase the effectiveness of your affirmations.
It took me a nearly a year after learning EFT before I got in the habit of tapping before going to bed, but once I began, I realized the power of it and made it a part of my nightly routine. So avoid making that same mistake and start tapping each and every night right before you go to bed.
For optimal results, it's recommended to do EFT about 10 times per day, or about once every hour.
This is easy to do, even when in public. You can just use one hand to lightly touch each point and hold it there for five seconds while "tuning into the problem" and repeating the affirmation. This way no one will realize what you are doing.
- As soon as you wake up
- Before every meal
- Every time you go to the bathroom
- When stopped at red lights
- When you go to bed
Caution with Using EFT
While EFT can be profoundly useful and effective when using it for simple measures like discussed above it is important to understand that you should seek out a professional EFT clinician if you are struggling with a serious issue.
Most EFT experts are trained professionals and have taken many years of training to acquire the skills to really master this powerful tool to get it to work. One of the main dangers of EFT is to use it yourself and not get results and then dismiss EFT altogether and miss its incredible healing potential.
Remember - - Your Consistent Thoughts Become Your Reality
All personal growth reduces down to the above sentence. In a very real way, you are what you think, and your life becomes what you think it currently is.
Why is that?
It's because you get what you focus on.
Pessimists see what is wrong in the world. Optimists see opportunity. Yet, it's the same world. What do you see? Whatever it is, it's a reflection of your consistent thoughts.
Your habitual vocabulary also has a subtle but powerful ability to condition your mental system. Which is a better statement: "I can't" or "I don't know how yet"? Simply shifting your vocabulary can shift your entire outlook.
The Health Benefits of Happiness and Laughter
Optimism and happiness go hand in hand, and laughter is never far away once you're able to see and focus on the brighter side of life.
Interestingly enough, there is a mountain of research demonstrating the beneficial effects of positive emotions and laughter on your health. For example:
- A sunnier disposition can lengthen your life, regardless of your age, weight or smoking habits
- Positive emotions can help you see life’s bigger picture
- Laughter helps type 2 diabetics process sugar better
- Laughter is good for your heart
Recent research has also found that "your body's response to repetitive laughter is similar to the effect of repetitive exercise."
So, whatever it takes to put a genuine smile on your face is what you should be doing.
There are so many things out there to smile about and all you have to do is find one. Try something out of the ordinary like walking barefoot through the grass, taking time to watch the sunrise or going to a comedy club, and don't overlook the joy in everyday things like talking to your kids and walking the dog. You'll be amazed at how much brighter things can become when you look at them through smiling eyes.