(This is a re-print of an article I posted at Helium.com which originally appeared on my MySpace blog and has been excerpted from for my my first book. So, it’s been around the web a while.)
I know several of you read the title and exclaimed, “A-ha! A spelling error!” Well, while I applaud your watchdoggedness, I actually intended to use the word affect and not effect. Specifically the noun form of affect meaning “Feeling or emotion, especially as manifested by facial expression or body language.” So instead of catching me making a typo, you have instead caught me using clever wordplay in my article topic for the day. Of course you can rip on me for using the word “watchdoggedness” if you like.
So here’s a hypothetical question: “If you see a man at a bus stop with his shoulders stooped and a frown on his face, is he happy or sad?” It’s not a trick question. He is sad.
Here’s a follow-up question: “Is he frowning because he is sad or is he sad because he is frowning?”
That one’s a little bit tougher to answer. There is a correlation between emotion and facial expression. Most people who are not sociopaths recognize this. But a little known fact that you were never taught in school–although it can be proven in about 20 seconds of experimentation–is that causation between emotion and facial expression actually goes both ways. What does that mean? It means that when we experience emotion our body responds with measurable physiological changes that result in facial expressions connected to the emotion. But if causation goes both ways, then what does that mean? It means that we can consciously change our facial expressions in order to trigger those same measurable physiological changes that results in the emotion connected to that facial expression. After reading that, your eyebrows are probably a little bit lower than their natural resting position and your lips are slightly parted because you are confused.
Smile big! Show some teeth!
Here’s what just happened: the muscles in your face relaxed, there is more oxygen circulating through your blood and brain, and your endorphins level raised slightly. If you’re still smiling when you get this far, then not only is it easier for you to read without losing your place or getting distracted by stray thoughts because you are more relaxed, but you are also more prone to accept what I’m saying as true. Also, you probably just plain feel better than you did a minute ago.
So when it comes to emotions, learn to be proactive instead of reactive. Make a decision to smile more. You’ll feel better, you’ll be more relaxed, you’ll live longer. And people will respond more positively to you than to the other guy who’s constantly scowling.
Ok, that’s a little too much.