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Does Acting Happy Make You Happier?

Time lapse photo of people walking along street
Image credit: photo by Melina Kiefer on Unsplash.

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Researchers have recently found that the way we walk, the way we sit, and even how we interact with strangers can all influence our mood and perhaps even alleviate depression. In one of the most recent studies from Germany, “the researchers changed gait patterns of test persons (39 students) so that their gait was either more cheerful or more depressed than normally.”

And what they found was that the way you move can determine happiness. Dr. Michalak, one of the authors of the study, states that the study “substantiates the assumption that the way we move affects the way we process positive or negative information.”

Moving For Happiness

Essentially, if you walk in a happier manner (more swinging of arms, head up), you remember less negative words. If you walk more dejectedly, (hands held close, looking down, shuffling), then you are more likely to recall negative words, which is seen as an indicator for depression.

So happy and energetic movement seems to be a key strategy in getting out of a blue mood. Often, if we are sad, depressed, or anxious, our tendency is to sit down or lay down.

Staying still with depression can cement the depression in place and further exacerbate it.

Kathleen Dwyer-Blair.

There are, of course, times when we are genuinely tired and need rest, and in those cases, we can allow our bodies to do so. Yet there are other times when movement may really help to energize or shift a depression or depressed mood.

Genuinely feeling our bodies through movement can help us to keep from being stuck in our heads and shift us from a “stuck” emotional place. When you are living in your body and not your mind, you can experience a connection with a person or even a sunset very differently.

This difference:

  • Being in the body versus the head – means that we are no longer thinking, questioning, or analyzing every minute.
  • For instance, notice how you feel while you are dancing, for example, versus when you are sitting and thinking.
  • Having that break from our thoughts gives us the chance to see that we are more than our thoughts. That alone can help to free us from a cycle of depression or depressed moods.

Shaking, especially, is a great way for people to relieve tension, anger, frustration or anxiety, or simply help us to feel better. Shaking is one of my favorite ways of shifting things for me, whether it be emotional or physical. Dogs are wonderful role models to demonstrate this. Have you ever noticed how when a dog gets up they tend to stretch and then to give themselves a shake?

Smiling And Interacting Can Have Surprising Benefits

Can a simple smile break down barriers, and help do much more?

Another recent study shows us that (surprise) genuine interpersonal contact with strangers – making eye contact and having brief conversations - also brings about a more positive mood.

And we all probably remember those studies on smiles – that just forcing yourself to smile, even when you’re down, can instantly make you feel better? Well, that research still stands, and in fact, smiling has even been shown to reduce blood pressure.

Of course, trying to remember or even force ourselves to do these things when we’re cranky, anxious, or actually depressed can be tough. But if we can take the time to try, then acting happy can truly make us happier.

So What Are Some Ways That You Can Boost Your Own Mood And Help Fight Depression?

  • Take a brisk walk. Make sure to swing your arms vigorously and keep your head up and looking outwards at the horizon.
  • Do a shake. Shake your whole body for thirty or forty seconds until you feel done, and notice how differently you might feel. Things tend to shift biochemically and energetically when you shake.
  • Talk to your barista, your neighbor, and the people on the train or subway near you. Ask them about what they are reading, or what they are looking forward to on the weekend. Everyone out there has a story – find out what theirs is. 

Talk To Someone Who Is Truly Helpful

The human mind is a Universe all of its own, and just as complex, maybe even more so than the cosmos. That's why who you choose to talk to on issues that matter to you, can make all the difference.

One other way to find ways to be happy is to talk to a trusted psychotherapist about how you’re feeling. Like me, they might recommend movement or a brisk walk as an antidote. A good therapist will also walk you through your thoughts and feelings allowing you to see the underlying concerns and issues that detract from a rich and full life.

At Nassau Guidance, we have many years of experience in handling depression, anxiety, and general unhappiness. If you do need to talk to someone, we will always welcome you.

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