Changing Your Mood by Smiling — New Research Sheds Some Light
2014 study proves it takes hard work to change your mood
When I was a senior in high school, I’d notice that a girl who was a junior smiled all the time. You might think that’s unlikely, that she smiled almost all the time. But I mean I never saw her without a smile on her face. Never. Does that mean she was a naturally happy person? Or, did she work at being happy by smiling all the time? I didn’t know her, so I can’t say. But I thought about smiling when I saw her. And now there’s some research on smiling.
This article, in Everyday Health— We Were Wrong About Happiness. Here’s the Real Deal, holds that our moods are malleable. It asks, “You know how people suggest you ‘keep your chin up’ or ‘grin and bear it?’ It may sound crazy, but these simple physical actions (i.e., mimicking a more positive affect than you feel) can induce a correlating emotional response.” And it states that “studies have shown that even fake smiles reduce overall stress.”
That makes me sit up and take notice, because I think of people entering recovery. Depression often accompanies addiction (I don’t want to venture a guess whether it’s a result of addiction, or if it’s a vicious cycle. You drink because you’re depressed and then you’re depressed because you drink, for example. I’ll leave that to the experts.). But I picture someone sitting down with an addiction counselor and I don’t think that professional would say, “Well, one thing you can do is smile more. It’ll make you feel better.” Even I know that’s not a helpful statement when it comes to a person who’s suffering from addiction. So a caveat would have been helpful on that article. Also, the author didn’t name her source.
But Dr. Mark Gold, of Rivermend and Malibu Beach Recovery Center, says that new research suggests “Keep smiling” may not be the best piece of advice or coping strategy for some people after all. Fake it until you make it assumes hard work, change, and therapy rather than waiting, wishing and hoping. Now that’s what I would think.
Gold went on to say, “The researchers in this 2014 study (“Not always the best medicine: Why frequent smiling may reduce well being,” in the Journal of Experimental Sociology), found that smiling frequently may actually make people feel worse if they’re really just faking it — grinning even though and feel depressed. When people force themselves to smile because they hope to feel better or they do it just to hide their negative emotions, this is not a successful strategy. “
The researchers point out that some cultures, Japan’s for example, use smiling to mask negative emotions, AND, that just as I said, smiling may be associated either with the belief that a person is happy or that the person is unhappy and trying to become happy. There’s a longer explanation about why smiling can either increase or reduce happiness, that concludes with how smiling can actually remind you that you’re not happy. As Dr. Gold says, sometimes it’s hard work—and it takes professional help—to improve your mood.
As a follow-on to this topic, Nature magazine, in a special issue on depression, says that the disorder causes more disability than any other. The issue discusses several treatments, but it says early on, “the hope is that research will find a faster route to relief.”