- Using your face to control how you feel

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Using your face to control how you feel

We take it for granted that we can read certain expressions on peoples’ faces. So we use phrases like ‘she looks sad’ or ‘he’s looking angry’.

Psychologists have studied these expressions and found them to be universal. In other words the looks of anger, happiness, sadness, etc. are the same in all societies.

Two psychologists, Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen, decided to work out in detail how each expression was created and there are a lot of expressions. They worked out all the individual movements of the various face muscles and they practised making all the expressions themselves.

In the process of this work they had an incredible insight. They were sitting together practising the expressions of anger and distress and doing this every day.

Finally one of them admitted feeling awful at the end of each day and the other one then realised that he felt the same. So they started to keep track of their feelings when they were practising expressions.

Their findings were mind blowing. Just practising an expression created the feeling that it represented.

They followed this up with an experiment on two groups of volunteers all of whom were wired up to record heart rate, sweating, body temperature, muscle tension etc.

One group was asked to remember and relive a particular event in their lives which had been very sad or had made them very angry. The other group was just asked to make expression of sadness or anger on their faces.

The physiological responses of both groups followed the same pattern. Those reliving an experience of anger had the same pattern of changes in heart rate, body temperature, sweating, etc., as those volunteers who just made an angry face.

Think about the consequences of this information for ourselves. "Smiling makes you feel good" is a well known expression. This research has shown that it is true.

So get that sad/angry expression of your face and replace it with a smile even when you don’t feel like smiling. When your feeling low stand in front of the mirror, lift up your head and smile at yourself for a few minutes. You can change the way you feel.

Colin Sutherland

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