April Daniels Hussar, SELF magazine
Got the Monday blues? Here's a quick trick to make you feel happier...
Smile! According to a new study out of the University of Kansas, putting on a happy face can actually make you feel better.
"Age old adages, such as 'grin and bear it' have suggested smiling to be not only an important nonverbal indicator of happiness but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life's stressful events," researcher Tara Kraft, a graduate student in clinical psychology, says in a statement. "We wanted to examine whether these adages had scientific merit; whether smiling could have real health-relevant benefits."
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Study participants who made themselves smile, either physically (using chopsticks to make their mouths form the shape of a smile) or by just plain-old smiling, had lower heart rate levels after recovery from stressful activities, though "real" smiles, involving the whole face, had a stronger effect than the manufactured smiles. In other words, smiling actually influences your physical state, so if you're feeling stressed, go ahead and grin and let your body work from the outside in to make you feel better! For more health benefits of smiling (including making you feel sexier), check out this slideshow.
This research comes right in time for "Happiness Happens Month" -- which is this month, according to The Secret Society of Happy People, a not-so-secret group started in 1998 to celebrate and encourage happiness. Pamela Gail Johnson, founder of the Society and author of Don't Even Think of Raining on My Parade: Adventures of the Secret Society of Happy People, gave us some more tips for feeling happier this month. Now that's something to smile about!
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Recognize your happy moments with the same enthusiasm as you recognize your unhappy moments. "We live in a culture where complaining gets more kudos than sharing our happiness does," says Johnson. You're probably more likely to complain about the snippy barista who made your latte this morning than you are to tell co-workers about the really nice compliment the guy at the flower shop gave you, right? Johnson says people tend to make a bigger deal out of the unpleasant moments and forget too quickly about the great ones. To flip the dynamic, Johnson recommends experimenting for a day or so by making a notation on a piece of paper every time you experience a happy moment. "You'll be surprised by how many happy moments you experience when you look for them instead of taking them for granted," she says. "And, like anything, whatever you're looking for, you'll notice more of."
Encourage others to talk about their happy moments. "There's more than one scientific study that confirms happiness is contagious, so the more we talk about our happiness and listen to others talk about their happiness, the happier we'll all be," says Johnson.
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Distinguish between annoyances and problems. "Often, we let an annoyance that should be a nanosecond on our unhappy radar take away our happiness for too long," says Johnson. A constantly snarky co-worker, says Johnson, should be thought of as something that simply "is," like a dog that won't stop barking (you just have to grin and bear it). "Problems, on the other hand, are situations that require a game plan for how to deal with them over a period of time," Johnson says. "For example, if a tornado rips up your house, that's a real problem that will minimize your happiness for a period of time." But, Johnson adds, "that doesn't mean happiness won't happen in the middle of fixing your house and replacing your stuff -- it might take a little more work to see it!"
Get enough sleep. "If you're exhausted from multi-tasking yourself silly, it's virtually impossible to feel much of anything other than tired," says Johnson, who points out that a study from Cornell University examined Twitter feeds and found that people are happiest in the mornings. "That's because our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual bandwidth has been recharged instead of being overstretched," says Johnson. So hit the sack early tonight, and see how much better you feel tomorrow!
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