Life and happiness: How posture, expression and movement affect your well being

A picture showing a range of human facial expressions demonstrating how these movements can impact your mood
Sixteen faces expressing the human passions-coloured engraving by J. Pass, 1821, after Charles Le Brun

Life guru and happiness sage Mr Motivator recently recommended this: everyone should imagine they have an orange between their shoulder blades and squeeze it hard everyday. Posture clearly has an enormous impact on mood, and people can subconsciously pick up on your attitude based on your body language. In fact, it’s a circular system: your body language and facial expressions both create your mood and express your mood. No where is this more obvious than your face.

Facial Expression

Facial expression can literally change your life and happiness. Silvan Tomkins researched facial expressions in the 1960s. In order to document the many variations, he had to imitate them. After imitating hundreds of facial expressions, he realised it was impacting his mood. Smiling made him happier, frowning made him more annoyed. He went on to publish groundbreaking work on the connection between facial expression and mood. It is counterintuitive, and often infuriating if someone suggests it at the wrong moment, but it’s clear that forcing a happy face can actually make a difference!

For a deep dive into the topic of facial expressions, check out the fantastic book Unmasking the Face: A guide to recognizing emotions from facial expressions by Paul Ekman.

Doubting Yourself

In another study Richard Petty published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, college students were instructed to sit up straight, push out their chests, slouch forwards or look at their knees. They then listed positive or negative traits about themselves. You might not guess the result of this one. It wasn’t as simple as negative postures made negative self-evaluations. The negative poses made the students trust less in the assertions they made about themselves. The positive postures made people believe more in their ideas about themselves.

Want to stop doubting yourself? Read this article on grit to find our what a singular purpose can do for your life and happiness.

Creating the Right Impression

Putting your hands behind your head might seem to show confidence, but it is often interpreted as arrogance. This may not always be the case, perhaps the person just feels very comfortable in their surroundings, but nonetheless, it is clearly important to think about how other people read the non-verbal signals you send. These signals are not only affecting your mood, but also others perceptions of you (especially first impressions). This can become a feedback loop if you misjudge your body language, so it is definitely worth being careful!

A safer bet is to make sure your shoulders are back, your abdomen is tucked in, and your back straight (as straight as it can naturally be). This exudes self-assuredness and focus. It can even affect your own body image, making you feel taller, fitter, and in possession of more presence.

Take it from the Experts

Motivation expert Tony Robbins says that in order for us to feel any emotion, we have to use our body in the right way. He says that in two minutes we can boost our testosterone and decrease the stress hormone cortisol. He suggests we should emulate the body language and vocal style of those we admire. Check out his explanation here.