Take Control of Your Own Happiness

Photo Credit: Daniel Xavier Pexels

How can you take control of your own happiness? The mind/body connection is a powerful connection and by understanding how your body’s actions are connected to your thoughts and feelings, you will start to understand how your body gestures can command your happiness. Emotions show through our bodily sensations or reactions. At times, emotions creep up so quickly and naturally that it feels nearly impossible to control them. However, there is the possibility to control your emotions. First, you have to become aware of them. Emotional awareness is a step towards understanding the physiology related to happiness. Do you have ‘butterflies’ in your stomach when anxious? Do you feel a lump in your throat, a shiver or trembling in your hands when scared? Do you sense your teeth clenching or redness in your face when angered? Although these physiological responses might happen naturally, there are others you can do to ‘fake’ your happiness. Whatever you do, take control of your own happiness.

Physiology and Our Emotions

In 2013, Finnish researchers studied different emotions and the body’s responses. This research probed 701 participants to experience various emotions. Then, the researchers asked them to color in a body map of where they felt a marked increase or decrease in activity due to feeling the emotion. (Nummenmaa et al., 2013). See the images below of the findings:

Yellow indicates the highest level of activity.

Red is next highest level of activity. Black is neutral.

Blue and light blue indicate lower or much lower activity.

As you can see from the images above, the Love, Pride and Happiness depictions show a major yellow component to the subjects’ activity level. Not only are these emotions positive emotions we feel but the gestures that go along with these emotions are noteworthy. For example, when one feels love, pride and happiness, one is typically smiling and keeping open body language. Because we feel secure and happy, we are demonstrating it with our body’s language. Think about the opposite. When one is feeling depression, fear, sadness or anxiety, one’s body language is closed off (i.e., crossed arms, head down, frowning, on-guard).

Gestures to Increase Happiness

There are various gestures you can start doing as a way to ignite the happiness or love feelings inside of you. These gestures are completely voluntary, however. The conundrum is even when you do not feel like exhibiting these gestures, you might want to force yourself to show them because that is what perpetuates the increased, positive emotions and increased activity levels as shown in the images above. Here is a list of positive gestures to start working on:

• Smiling

• Upright posture

• Open arms

• Open stance

• Head nodding

• Secure distance

• Head facing upright with eye contact

When using these gestures altogether and on a daily basis, the possibilities are endless. I am not saying, you can ‘gesture’ your way out of a serious mental illness, but there are ways to train your brain out of mild to moderate depression and anxiety, and these are some of them. Challenge yourself to try it each day for longer periods of time until you are gesturing your way to happiness most days. Just like we can practice positive gestures, negative gestures can bring on negative emotions or a decreased level of activity. Here is a list of negative gestures you might catch yourself demonstrating:

• Frowning

• Slouched posture

• Closed arms

• Closed stance

• Far distance from a person

• Head held low without eye contact

Facial Feedback and Mirroring

Awareness is the first step. Observation can be a component of gaining awareness. Observe how other people are demonstrating their bodily gestures during conversations or when you are out and about. Do you see any of the negative or positive gestures demonstrated by others? Does the person ‘look’ happy or sad? When you are in a conversation with someone, are you monitoring your own gestures? Do you ever notice if you are mirroring the person’s facial feedback gestures? It is important also to observe who you spend your time with. If you are in a negative work or school environment or around anxious or depressed friends, how is that affecting y our own state of mind? How is that affecting your own habitual gestures on a daily basis?

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

This type of body intelligence is largely connected to your emotional intelligence. When you can pay attention to your bodily sensations and command your body’s gestures to be positive you are becoming responsible for your overall health. Demonstrating positive emotion-related gestures leads to increased positive emotions and thoughts. This leads to decreased blood pressure, lower cortisol or stress levels and healthy dopamine and serotonin connectivity in the brain. These two neurotransmitters are responsible for happiness and calmness, respectively.

Increasing dopamine can be done naturally through smiling. Smiling releases neuropeptides in the brain that works towards fighting off stress. Dopamine, serotonin and endorphins are all released when you smile. Smiling is a natural solution as opposed to taking a synthetic drug especially if you are dealing with situational stress, mild to moderate depression or anxiety. By taking part in showing positive gestures, you are ‘faking it until you make it’. In this way, you are able to reap its benefits for free!

Take Away Message

When you take part in demonstrating positive behavioral gestures, you commit to a happier you! By smiling, you tell your brain you are happy. By keeping an open distance or secure stance with open arms, you tell your brain you are safe and calm. Another example, is when you stand in the superwoman pose you tell your brain to be confident and powerful. As Amy Cuddy described on a recent Ted Talk, when you stand in the “superwoman pose” for two minutes, this powerful pose allows you to increase testosterone, decrease cortisol levels and show a marked improvement to take part in the following activity confidently. All in all, these studies give us information and prove that powerful, confident, and positive bodily gestures ignite our brain’s physiological responses in a positive way.

Images for this blog came from: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/body-mind-integration-attention-training/