Today we learn of yet another way to improve your mood, to help you feel happier.
Psychologists who work in the field of embodied cognition have discovered that if you walk like a happy person you will become happier. Walk like a sad person, however, and your mood will descend.
That’s right: don’t worry so much about your unconscious motives. Don’t worry about discovering the deep, underlying meaning for your unhappiness. Change your posture! Surely, it's better than taking yet another pill.
You will be thinking that your sad walk expresses how you really, really feel. And yet, it may simply be a habit that you picked up along the way, one that persists even when your mood improves. Also, if you surround yourself with people who manifest a sad walk you are more likely to mimic their posture.
Melissa Dahl brings us the good news at New York Magazine:
Research has shown that depressed people tend to walk with poorer posture; they also tend to sway their upper body a bit from side to side as they move, but their arms don't swing at their sides too much. Non-depressed people, on the other hand, walk upright; their upper body stays steady, and their arms swing at their sides as they go along.
Among the results:
The people who'd been prompted to walk like a depressed person ended up recalling more negative words and (slightly) fewer positive words than the people who'd merrily bounced along on their treadmills. This, the authors conclude, means that the people who'd walked as if they were sad did, in fact, end up feeling sadder.
Is it all true? I believe that it is. Dahl points out that the results are consistent with those attained by other studies:
Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy found that if you stand like a powerful person would, with your chest puffed out and your hands on your hips, you'll feel more powerful; she calls this "power posing" and has hinted at preliminary research that suggests this even works in your sleep. Likewise, a famous study in the 1980s showed that if you hold a pen between your lips, it activates the muscles you use to smile, which seems to actually put you in a better mood, as if you were smiling spontaneously.
We are so habituated to thinking in inside/out terms that we tend to scoff at these studies. Inside/out thinking, the notion that there is a ghostly mind directing all our actions, is so habitual that we take it as gospel.
In truth, the idea of outside/in thinking is not as novel as it appears. When soldiers are taught to stand at attention, to stand tall and proud, to look powerful… surely this time-tested tactic must produce the desired result. Otherwise, the military would not continue to do it.
For those of you not in the military, and who wish to overcome your tendency to slouch and to mope around, a few Pilates classes will improve your posture.
Dahl explains that she once heard the governing principle from her swimming coach: fake it until you feel it. Participants in AA meetings learn to: fake it until you make it.