Create Your Happiness Through Your Behaviors
By Zhu Yu & Dan Shan
We tend to assume that our body trembles when fear arises, and laughs when we are happy. However, about a century ago, William James, the leading psychologist in America, pointed out that when the body is triggered by an external stimulus, a reaction happens instinctively. The brain processes the response and makes an assessment of the situation within seconds, before the emotions set in.
To put it simply, there is a reaction first followed by emotion. For instance, you tremble when you see a bear and you begin to run away. The brain makes an assessment of what has happened before fear (which is an emotion) sets in.
A Danish physiologist, Carl Lange, presented a similar theory. The ideas of the two researchers came to be known as the James-Lange Theory of Emotion. This theory garnered much public attention and discussion, and prompted further exploration. Many scientific experiments right up to today have likewise proven that our physical reactions can bring about a change in emotion.
Smile and the World Smiles at You
In the 1960s, James D. Laird, an American psychologist, conducted an experiment. He found the easiest and fastest way to increase your feeling of happiness without having to rely on any external stimulus is to smile.
To be fair, he deliberately misled the participants into thinking that it was a study on the movement of facial muscles under various conditions. He placed electrodes between the participants’ eyebrows, at the corners of their mouth, and on their lower jaw. He instructed the participants to activate the corresponding muscles to show different expressions such as putting on a smile or displaying an angry face. The results of the experiment were astonishing: It was revealed that the act of smiling made the participants happy whereas frowning prompted a sense of anger for no apparent reason.
Researchers were also able to confirm through brain scans that when participants put on an expression of fear, the part of the brain that controls emotion became active. This meant that the facial expression resulted in real fear and panic.
Through conducting numerous studies, another American psychologist, Paul Ekman, found that people around the world have the same facial expressions — differences in race, culture and geography do not create differences in expressions. Hence, changing our facial expressions to bring about a change in our emotions applies to the human race as a whole.
Try a 20-second experiment. Facing a mirror, pull the muscles at the corners of your mouth toward your ears. Alternatively, try laughing out loud. How do you feel now? Are you more relaxed?
The Power of Self-Encouragement
Giving compliments to others brings them confidence and happiness. Many people forget that complimenting oneself is an important factor in overall happiness.
Positive words can inspire positive emotions. A clinical experiment conducted by psychologist Emmett Velten proved this. A group of participants were told to read 60 sentences with meanings that were increasingly positive, while another group was made to talk about facts without any emotive elements. The results showed the first group of participants registered significantly higher happiness index.
Grandmaster JinBodhi said, “Start a new day with good thoughts and you will have a smooth day filled with good fortune.” Don’t wait to be in a good mood; rather, create your good mood by starting each day with a few words of self-encouragement.
At every Bodhi Meditation Retreat, students recite Grandmaster JinBodhi’s Golden Words:“I am most confident, I am full of wisdom,I am most charming, I can sing beautifully,I can do anything.” Reciting some affirmations has helped a multitude of people regain confidence and optimism, and sets the tone for a productive day.
Walking to Positivity
Psychologist Johannes Michalak and his team conducted a study in which students had their gait monitored with motion-capture technology. The students were kept in the dark about what a gauge on a video monitor was measuring.
At the start of the experiment, they were divided into two groups and told to try out different styles of walking in attempts to shift the bar to the right. For the first group of participants, the more they walked in a sad, dejected way, the more the gauge moved to the left; conversely, the more happily they walked, the further the gauge moved to the right. This feedback resulted in participants doing a “happy walk.”
In contrast, for the second group of participants, the gauge was set to respond in the opposite way. The more depressed their gait, the further the gauge moved to the right. As with the first group, they were instructed to test different walking styles in order to keep the gauge to the right. Again, this group was not told what the gauge was measuring. The instructions they received encouraged them to do a “sad walk.”
After four minutes of walking, both groups of students were asked to what degree 40 different positive and negative emotional words described their own personality. Then the students continued walking on the treadmill for another eight minutes, trying to keep the gait-feedback gauge to the right.
The final task was to recall as many of the emotional descriptors as possible. Participants who walked with a happy gait could recall more positive words, while those who took on a dejected walking posture recalled more negative words. The study results suggest that our walking posture affects how we feel.
Confident Posture for Empowerment
Adjusting your posture is an easy and effective way to increase your happiness index. When you walk, take confident, large steps and keep your eyes up — you will feel more lighthearted.
Amy Cuddy, a sociologist, pointed out that hanging your head or slouching can lower your confidence. Instead, adopt a “power pose” to boost self-assurance: Stand tall, head and chest high and open, legs placed apart in a solid stance. When we occupy a bigger space, it increases our sense of power and makes us feel more in control of the situation. By simply adopting an empowered stance, we can in turn feel inspired and overcome anxiety.
People have the power to take control of their own happiness.
Performing simple positive actions on a regular basis can mean the difference between feeling empowered and feeling depressed.
Meditating Your Way to Joy
Multiple scientific studies have proven that the brain produces dopamine (the chemical that gives people feelings of joy and satisfaction) when the practice of meditation or yoga is undertaken.
Andrew Newberg, a neurologist from the University of Pennsylvania, discovered through brain scans of experienced meditators that the frontal lobes of their brains became active during meditation. Several similar studies have also shown that the part of the brain that controls feelings of happiness and positive thinking emits powerful waves when a person is meditating.
Professor Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his team conducted an experiment in which they compared the brainwaves of individuals who had practiced meditation for a long time with those who had not meditated before. One group consisted of eight Buddhists aged between 34 and 64 years old. They had been practicing meditation for 15 to 40 years. The other group was comprised of 10 healthy university students who had never tried meditation nor any visualization technique. They were provided meditation classes for one hour a day for a week.
Brain scans showed that those in the Buddhist group displayed very active alpha and gamma brainwaves. Alpha brainwaves are related to bodily relaxation and the ability to concentrate; gamma brainwaves are related to happiness. The gamma brainwave activity showed that the part of the brain which controls happiness was very dynamic in the group of seasoned meditators.
Happiness in Your Hands
People have the power to take control of their own happiness. Performing simple positive actions on a regular basis can mean the difference between feeling empowered and feeling depressed. A wealth of science supports the idea that our bodily expressions have a direct impact on our emotions and mindset.
Start each day with affirmations for yourself. Even if you don’t feel confident, tell yourself that you are. Speak encouraging words aloud. Be mindful of how you sit, stand and walk. Strike a power pose. Hoist your mouth into a smile. We can behave our way tofeeling happier.