To work out how to be happier instantly, we first have to get rid of an ingrained assumption that most of us have. That is, we tend to assume that emotions go from the inside of us to the outside, i.e. that when we feel happy inside we then display that emotion on the outside too by smiling or conversely if we feel sad we display that on the outside with a frown.
It’s such an ingrained assumption that this just is how emotions work that we never stop to think that they could work another way too. That instead of having to let how we feel dictate the emotional state of our entire being, we could instead decide that we want to feel a certain way and through mimicking what would be the physical results of that desired emotion cause that state in ourselves. That we could have the power to make ourselves feel happier, any time we want.
If emotions only work from the inside out, as the assumption goes, then all we can try to do in order to improve how we feel is go and fix the thing in our life that’s causing an undesired emotion in the first place. There’s no point trying to control how much of that emotion we display physically by hiding our sadness with a smile since it won’t make a blind bit of difference to how we feel. The only benefit controlling the physical manifestation of an emotion might have is to help us save face if we don’t want others to know that we’re feeling that way.
That is, if the inside out theory of emotion is correct.
If we want to know how to be happier, instantly, we have to drop the assumption that we can only our control emotions from the inside.
Country to the inside out theory of emotion, there’s another school of thought that argues that actually emotions work in the reverse direction too; that if we perform what would be the physical result of the emotion we want to feel, such as smiling if we want to feel happy, that will in turn cause us to feel that emotion internally.
Think that’s a bit of a stretch and you’d only be faking the smile, not actually feeling the happiness inside you?
Well how about if someone else is happy? Do you think that their happiness can rub off on you?
I’d put money on it that every one of you reading this can think of at least one instance in which other peoples’ emotions have rubbed off on you. Where you’ve been sad, and maybe even wanted to remain in that state, but the happiness of another person has dragged you out of it.
I for one witnessed this in practice only recently. I went back to England for a month and spent a lot of time in London, which is notorious for the grumpiness of its inhabitants. I should know, I used to be one of the grumpiest ones. I never used to smile as I travelled around London, acknowledge anyone else’s presence or look anything other than like I might kill you if you so much as even tried to talk to me. And had you asked me about other people in London before the last month I would have said they were the same. That they were all grumpy and rude too, especially to strangers.
But I noticed a funny thing when I went back this time. People were no longer grumpy and rude and unfriendly. Instead people smiled at me, gave way for me and talked to me. It was like a completely different city. But it wasn’t the city that had changed, it was me. I was smiley and friendly and open so people acted that way to me in return. I infected others with my smile. It was the clearest example I’ve ever seen that:
We get back what we put out into the world. If you walk around with a frown you will get a frown but if you walk around with a smile, you’ll get a smile.
And the reason for this is because emotions are contagious. If I smile, you will actually feel happy as a result. I will pass on my happiness to you.
And as Malcolm Galdwell points out in his brilliant book The Tipping Point if emotions are contagious, if we can infect others with the outward expression of emotions, then surely we must be able to affect our own emotional states with these outward expressions too.
Gladwell cites an experiment in support of this point in which some people were told to move their heads up and down (in a nodding “yes” motion) and others side-to-side (as if shaking their heads “no”) whilst listening to a radio editorial. The experiment found that those who moved their heads up and down were much more likely to agree in favour of what the editorial argued than those who shook their heads back and forth.
If something as simple as a head nod can make us agree with an opinion, imagine the power a smile could have on your emotional state when you’re feeling down.
Time and time again studies have found that our physical actions can effect our internal states. That’s why “Faking it till you make it” in our body language, as referred to in my previous post 3 Ways to Overcome Fear works.
Even Tony Robbins, arguably the world leader in helping people gain control over their emotional states, supports this reverse theory of emotion. As he puts it:
“The mind and the body are totally linked. The way you use your physiology – the way you breathe and hold your body, your posture, facial expressions, the nature and quality of your movements- actually determines what state you are in.”
And this is from the guy who is so good at helping people control their internal states that he trains people to walk across fire without it burning their feet. He knows his stuff.
But maybe you’re still not convinced, it feels a little counterintuitive after all that the answer as to “How to be happier?” would be so simple and easy. That if we want to feel happier, all we need to do is smile.
So don’t listen to me, give it a go.
Walk around with a smile on your face even when you’re feeling down and see how it effects how you feel and those around you. Or dance around the room for a minute as if you are happy even when you’re feeling sad. It will change how you feel inside. This is how to be happier, instantly.