Smile (Even if You Don’t Feel Like it)
What if the frown on your face is not the result but the cause of your unhappiness?
I read it in yesterday’s paper. Doctors took a group of 75 people suffering from major depression and randomly assigned them to receive either a Botox shot in the forehead muscles that make it possible to frown, or a saline solution—a placebo. Fifty-two percent of those who received the Botox (and could no longer frown) reported relief from their depression, compared to only fifteen percent of the placebo group.
In other words, if you can’t frown, you feel happier. What? That reverses our standard thinking, which is—you frown because you’re sad, and you smile because you’re happy. We know all about psychosomatic illnesses: no one doubts that your brain can send signals to your body that actually make the body sick. But what this study—and many more like it—are telling us, is that the body can also send signals to the brain. If you get up in the morning, look in the mirror and see total glum, you’re sending your brain a message: Feel Glum.
How silly, you may be saying, to smile if I don’t feel like it. Why put on a happy face if I don’t feel happy?
I’m a big believer in daily spiritual practice. Whatever your practice, I tell people, do it every day even if you don’t feel like it. Because what we do with our bodies affects our minds. The great spiritual traditions have always known that wisdom, even if science is just now “proving” it.
Zen Buddhists have a practice of smiling, and one of its most devoted practitioners is the master Thich Nhat Hanh. He calls it “mouth yoga.” He vows to start each day (whether or not he feels like it!) with this:
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty four new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment,
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.