It dawned on me as I was watching Dancing With the Stars. The dancers always make their performances look so easy as they glide along the dance floor with poise and grace.
What I also noticed is that each one of them has a huge grin plastered on their face.
And yet, I know that they really aren’t feeling that happy—in fact most of them are probably nervous as hell—but there they are, flashing their best Cheshire cat smile.
And through all this dancing and smiling, I found that I couldn’t help but smile too.
I was caught up in the emotion that they were displaying—whether it was real or not.
And as I smiled I could feel my body engaged in a feeling of happiness, feeling the grace of movement flow through my body as if I had become the dancer.
And so I started to ponder this question: Is there a benefit to the old adage, ‘Fake it ‘til you make it?’
According to neuroscience research, there is.
When you smile, whether it is heartfelt or not, your brain responds to the act of smiling as if it is real, sending positive hormones through your system that are responsible for feelings of happiness.
And moreover, when you are with people who are smiling, the mirror neurons in your brain want to mimic what is around you and you will naturally start smiling too.
One activity that demonstrates both of these attributes of smiling is laughter yoga.
To be honest with you, when I attended a class I felt completely out of my comfort zone.
I was a bit nervous and didn’t feel at all like laughing.
But as the exercises continued and we were taught to laugh in different ways (laughing at each other as a greeting rather than saying words), I couldn’t help but to genuinely start to laugh.
I was laughing at myself, I was laughing at other people laughing, and I was laughing at the absurdity of it all.
It’s also funny (no pun intended) how the brain works by association.
As I am writing this article, my brain is scouring my memory files for experiences of laughter.
And one particular experience stands out above the rest. It was during a period when I was having difficulty sleeping and I had borrowed a relaxation cassette (yes, I am dating myself here) from a good friend.
During the middle of the night, while not sleeping, I decided to get up and put the tape on.
So I position myself comfortably on the floor, ready to embrace relaxation and sleep.
The tape starts and, to my shock and surprise, I realized that I had accidently pressed the fast forward button instead of the play button.
Now, I’m not exactly sure why, but the whole experience struck me as hysterically funny.
There I am, lying on the floor at 3 in the morning trying to relax to a tape that sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks on crack.
Imagine them saying one, two, three, breath—in a helium sounding voice at warp speed.
I am immediately thrown into a fit of laughter as I roll around on the floor with tears streaming down my face. My thought was: “Is this what my life has come to?”
Being able to laugh at ourselves not only makes life easier, but in the long run, it also makes us happier.
So whether it’s real or not, the act of smiling will release the hormones associated with happiness, despite how you may be feeling.
Laughter truly is the best medicine.