Want a quick trick to become happy? Try smiling.
In the late 1980s, researchers had subjects hold pencils in their mouths in various ways to mimic smiles or frowns. They discovered that by flexing facial muscles, even without knowing why, their subjects’ emotional reactions changed. Those who smiled rated things much more positively than those who frowned. Additional tests gave similar results.
The researchers concluded that though moods are accompanied by changes in the body, it works the other way as well. Make a seemingly insignificant change to your body—like flexing those smiling muscles—and your brain will notice and react accordingly.
So, “fake it till you make it” seems to have some merit.
Interestingly, we find a connection to this concept in this week’s Torah portion, when we are commanded to make the ark out of wood and cover it with gold.
They shall make an ark of acacia wood . . . and you shall overlay [the ark] with pure gold, inside and outside (Exodus 25:10–11)
The ark was made out of three boxes that were tucked into each other. The larger, visible box was made from pure gold. Inside was placed a box of acacia wood, inside of which was placed the smallest box, also made out of gold. The tablets with the Ten Commandments were kept in this innermost box.
Like the boxes of the ark, we too are made up of layers. On the inside we are made from “pure gold,” a G‑dly soul that is untainted and holy, and wants only to do what’s right and good. The next layer is our conscious self—our temperament, moods and feelings. This part of us isn’t always so pure or shiny. And finally, there is the outer box, the part of ourselves that we allow the world to see through our actions.
We might feel hypocritical to put on a golden face to the world when inside we’re feeling the opposite. Should I act outwardly giving, kind and empathetic when I’m feeling rather “wooden”? Should I present a façade of calmness when I really want to lash out in disparaging anger? Why act in a way that contradicts my true feelings?
But the construction of the ark teaches us that we can improve our feelings through our actions. It’s all right to have some “wooden” moments but outwardly act “golden.” Actions create internal change. Act the part, and you become it.
So go ahead and smile, and watch yourself become happier. Give those coins to charity, and witness your mood become more giving and forgiving. Act calmly, and your anger will begin to dissipate.
Because in truth, you aren’t really acting. Deep down, your inner self is pure gold. Wishing you a golden week!
P.S.: Did you ever try smiling when you were unhappy? Did it help? What other “acts” do you do to change how you are feeling?