Let me tell you how chewing on a pencil can improve you quality of life. In Mind Hacks, they advise you to: “put a pen between you teeth, in far enough so that it’s stretching the corners of your mouth without being uncomfortable. Hold it there fore a little, and appraise your level of mood. You should find that you end up feeling just a little happier”.It seems that simply using the relevant facial muscles makes us feel happier. Even if there’s nothing much to smile about. Once a friend who had been in Thailand for a long time told me about this, in a roundabout way. When living in the land of smiles, he had found himself smiling back at people, sometimes almost involuntarily. Then he had to go back to England for a while, and he was shocked. Just his arrival at Heathrow, tired and beat, seeing the grey skies outside and the sad, stressed or blank expressions of the people around him made him want to go right back to Bangkok. He felt completely overwhelmed by negativity.
We unconsciously mirror the expressions of people around us. The authors of Mind Hacks call it primitive contagion and describe the process:
“It begins with perception, which triggers mimicry, which itself produces emotion.”
Others are not convinced it’s a purely unconscious process, they think that people engage in social comparison to see if what they feel is congruent with the emotions of the people around them. Either way, it seems the Thai are right: Smiling could make you feel happier, even if you just mirror other people’s smiles.
Foreigners living in Thailand mention how Thai people can smile when they are amused, bemused, apologetic, annoyed, uncertain, wrong or even furious. There might be more to the Thai smile than meets the eye. But on the other hand, there’s the Thai concept of ‘sanuk’. A blogger describes this as:
“striving to achieve satisfaction and pleasure from whatever you do.”
Ofcourse, it works just as well if you want to spread negative emotions. As George Orwell wrote in 1984:
“The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. “
His protagonist, Winston, had to go to meetings where people screamed themselves into a frenzy in front of a telescreen picturing Big Brother’s version of the Enemy.
Thich Nhat Thanh is very philosophical about smiling when he writes:
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
He advocates that when the phone rings, you don’t scramble to pick it up. Instead, you let it ring three times, take a deep breath, and smile!