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When we are happy, we smile. The corners of our lips and cheeks rise, and wrinkles appear around the eyes. But does it work in reverse? Can a fake smile improve your mood? According to a new study by an international team of psychologists, yes it can.

A scientific paper led by Stanford University scientist Nicholas Coles says that a forced smile can actually make a person happier. According to the author, the effect is not strong enough to overcome depression, but it is still there.

We experience emotions so often that we forget to be surprised at how incredible this ability is. But without emotion there is no pain, no pleasure, no suffering, no bliss, no tragedy. This study tells us something fundamentally important about how this emotional experience works.

Nicholas Coles

The conclusions of scientists are based on the results of a large experiment involving 3878 people. Everyone was divided into three groups and asked to activate the “smile muscles” in different ways:

  • the first during the experiments held a pen in her mouth, not touching it with her lips;
  • the second imitated a Hollywood smile;
  • the third tried to move the corners of her lips to her ears and lift her cheeks, using only the muscles of her face.

In each group, half of the participants completed the task by looking at hilarious images of puppies, kittens, flowers, and fireworks, while the other half simply saw a blank screen. To hide the purpose of the test, the researchers asked the participants to solve simple math problems. After each task, participants rated how happy they were.

After analyzing all the data, the researchers found a marked increase in the level of happiness in participants who mimicked a smile and worked their facial muscles. People from the first group with a pen in their mouth had no changes. Scientists believe that the fact is that they had to constantly clench their teeth, which does not correspond to a natural smile.

These arguments support the idea that human emotions are somehow related to muscle movements or other physical sensations. And it works both ways.

A forced smile can make people happy, while a furrowed brow can make people angry; thus, the conscious experience of emotions must be based at least in part on bodily sensations. Over the past few years, science has taken one step back and several steps forward. But now we are closer than ever to understanding a fundamental part of the human condition: emotions.

Nicholas Coles