In the book, Blink, the author, Malcolm Gladwell, relates some fascinating research that was done by Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen. They created a chart of facial expressions by learning how each muscle in the face works and how they layer with other muscles to create over 10,000 visible facial configurations. Then they practiced for hours learning how to voluntarily make the muscle movements that were used for different emotions we feel.
They discovered a very important principle when they were working on expressions for anger and distress. They noticed that they really FELT terrible after a day when they had sat for hours practicing angry expressions. They noticed that their heartbeat would go up 10-12 beats, their hands would get hot and they would feel the emotion they were trying to expression. They discovered that “expression alone is sufficient to create marked changes in the autonomic nervous system.” (Blink, page 206)
A German team of psychologists conducted an experiment where a group of subjects looked at cartoons while either holding a pen between their lips (making it impossible to smile) or holding a pen clenched between their teeth (forcing them to smile). The group holding the pen between their teeth found the cartoons much funnier than the other group. (Blink, page 207)
Which came first--the chicken or the egg? Which comes first—the emotion or the muscles making the expression for the emotion?
How does this relate to me as a parent? Consider one of these common scenarios: you are having a bad day, or you have PMS, or you are tired, or you are just stressed out. Your emotions consist of anger, depression, tiredness, fatigue, frustration, or impatience, plus probably many more. What can you do about your emotions based on the above studies?
I remember days when I had PMS, and days when I was tired and frustrated and stressed. I would go to my bedroom and try to figure out how to get through the rest of the day. Sometimes I would gather every ounce of strength I had left and stand in front of my mirror. Then I would literally force myself to smile and maybe even choke out a laugh or two. I would open my bedroom door and pretend to be happy and go out and try to meet the needs of my children. And an amazing thing would happen, as I pretended to be happy, I started really feeling happy.
Please do not misinterpret me. If you have clinical depression or severe PMS or manic depression disorder,you need to see a physician and get the medical help that is available. What a wonderful day we live in where we have medicine that will get our bodies back in line with where they need to be. Take advantage of that fact!
But if you're just experiencing a down sort of blue day, or you are overwhelmed and tired and you can't go back to bed--then try experimenting with your emotions. See if you can manipulate your facial muscles into a smile and put a little song in your heart and go skipping off to take care of the needs of your family. Fake a laugh at yourself and pretty soon you will be laughing and smiling and feeling at least a little better than you were.