Recently I was lounging at an on campus coffee shop, melting into a plastic chair, tired around my eyes, and grimacing at the ache in my arms that I was convinced signified the flu. Only three weeks into the semester, and already brain matter regenerated over the summer was turning into mush.
I sat there trying to mentally prepare for a three hour barrage of lecture and overzealous graduate students obsessed with dead French critics.
I contemplated lying in the grass and catching a snooze before class, but decide to sulk instead.
I was still sulking when Robin, one of my colleagues, joined me. She wore a similarly dazed expression of a grad student pushed too far. After a brief chat, bemoaning our busy schedules, we sat staring at nothing.
At last, I had someone to sulk with.
Then she sat up straight and smiled. "Well," she said, smiling still, "you've heard about facial expressions affecting mood? I'll just have to do that." She smiled even bigger, white teeth exposed in a maniacally large smile that had me wondering if she'd cracked.
I'd heard of the concept before--manipulating your facial expression into an emotion you wanted to experience. Did it work?
I tried it. I smiled.
I immediately felt less tired and more happy.
I felt my eyes sinking down into my feet.
I tried again. I smiled.
Yes, definitely happy.
Robin and I sat there a few moments longer, alternately smiling and not smiling, until class called her away, and I was left sulking by myself again.
Can facial expression truly affect your mood?
It felt like it.
I'd read about mother's getting a 'natural high ' when seeing their baby's smile, key areas of their brains associated with reward lit up during the scans--of course those things could make you happy. But a forced smile?
Was some muscle around my mouth telling some part of my brain that I was happy? I'm not sure. But it felt like it worked, and for now, that's good enough for me.