How to Trick Yourself into a Better Mood

When you are suffering from depression, the last thing you want is someone to be cavalier and tell you to smile and cheer up. But what if there really is something to this seemingly dismissive directive?

Believe it or not, there's scientific evidence that forcing a smile, even when you don't feel like smiling, can really change your mood-for the better.

This principle, called the Facial Feedback Hypothesis, states that facial movements can influence your emotional experience. So smiling actually makes you feel more positive, while frowning prompts negative feelings. Charles Darwin first proposed the Facial Feedback Hypothesis and since then, numerous experts have conducted studies that support it (or some variation of it).

In one of the most famous studies to look at the effect of facial expressions on mood, scientists asked people to hold a pen in their teeth. Some participants held the pen sideways, to mimic a smile; others held the pen like a lollipop, which limited their facial movements. The people who held the pen in the position of a smile rated cartoons as funnier than the participants who held a serious expression.

For another study, researchers used Band-Aids to lift or lower participants' cheeks into smiles or frowns. Participants whose cheeks were lifted reported feeling happier than their frowning counterparts did.

The Facial Feedback Hypothesis is actually a couple of related hypothesis. The so-called sufficiency hypothesis says that facial expressive muscles, acting on their own, can produce an emotional experience, and are not exclusively a product of the emotion.

The modulation hypothesis states that facial expressions can alter experiences elicited by some external stimulus. When researchers ask participants to generate smile-related expressions, they reported enhanced positive feelings, even though they didn't know the researchers were studying smiling and mood.

There are several explanations for the phenomenon of how facial expressions affect mood. Smiling increases the level of endorphins, our body's natural painkillers, and increases serotonin, the target of a class of antidepressant drugs called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). Smiling also lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.

The benefits of smiling on mood are short-term and temporary. Mental health experts don't suggest they can replace psychotherapy or medication for treating chronic depression.

However, the next time you are feeling depressed, try to sustain a smile. You may find you actually trick yourself right into a better mood.


[My paper] Kazuo Mori, and Hideko Mori. "Another test of the passive facial feedback hypothesis: when your face smiles, you feel happy." Perceptual Motor Skills 109(1) (2009): 76-8. Web.

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Davis, Joshua Ian, Senghas, Ann, and Ochsner, Kevin N. "How does facial feedback modulate emotional experience?" Journal of Research in Personality 43 (2009): 822-829. Web.

Cloud, John. "How to Lift Your Mood? Try Smiling." Time. Web. 16 January 2009.,8599,1871687,00.html

Matsumoto, David and Willingham, Bob. "Spontaneous Facial Expressions of Emotion of Congenitally and Noncongenitally Blind Individuals." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96(1) (2009): 1-10. Web.