Alli Campbell: Laughter yoga
Thursday 14 April 2011
I found myself smiling almost uncontrollably at the weekend. No I did not have 6 numbers in Saturdays lottery draw, it wasn’t that I had a tenner of Charl Schwartzel to win the US Masters at 60/1 nor was it that my invitation
to the big wedding finally arrived - it hasn’t so far but I’m still hopeful and blame the postman.
So, what was it that had me smiling from ear to ear? It was in fact my first introduction to laughter yoga (don’t laugh.) Yes, of course it's a craze that has spread here from the States; and yes, of course, it is just as cringe-worthy as it sounds, but ever committed (I should be) to keeping you up to date with the latest places where celebrity and self-help meet, I gave it a shot so you don’t have to.
Despite what you may think, the psychology behind laughter therapy or laughter yoga as it now appears to be re-branded, is completely sound even if not immediately obvious. Think about it like this, we all smile when we are happy right? But we also know that in order for us to feel an emotion the stimulus does not have to be real. You laugh at funny movies yet the characters are not real the story is not real and even the picture is not real. It’s just a collection of multicoloured dots on a screen; and yet when we engage with it we feel the emotion just as if we were really there in that moment. So, the source of our happiness does not have to be real in order for us to feel happy.
But let’s take it another stage further and flip it on its head. If we smile when we are happy and we know that we can artificially trigger happiness then can we make ourselves happy just by smiling?
It’s not exactly a new idea though. During the 1970s and 1980s, quite a few psychologists got in on the smile research action, all with surprisingly consistent results.
In one experiment, a group of subjects was shown pictures of various facial expressions; another group made those facial expressions and a final group made those expressions while looking in the mirror.
The evidence all points toward smiling as a cause of happy feelings. Subjects were asked questions that pinpointed their emotional state before and after smiling, and they overwhelmingly scored happier after smiling. In the study involving the mirror, subjects who watched themselves smile saw an even more pronounced change in mood than those who smiled without the mirror, and the subjects who merely looked at pictures didn't experience
that change at all. Except that is for those subjects for whom smiling was inhibited by a negative visual experience due to aesthetic factors like bad teeth.
So do people who are inhibited in their smile (for whatever reason) feel less happiness? It appears so when I asked top UK cosmetic dentist Dr Attiq Rahman, this is what he said. The most rewarding part of my job as a
cosmetic dentist is not the physical result of what I do, but the emotional effect of it on my patients. My practice is filled with Thank You cards and very few of them mention their new veneers or implants. They all talk about
how what I have done has made them feel, and how delighted they are to smile and feel happy again. www.visage-health.com
All the research I have found says that if you are happy you smile more and if you smile more you are happy. While I didn't have any control over the lottery, the US Masters, or, it would appear, the invite list from the palace, I do have control over me and for the rest of this week I choose to smile for 3 minutes at the start of every day (after my coffee though, you can't rush these things). Whether I mean it or not my brain can't tell the difference and my emotions quickly catch up with my actions. Give it ago for yourself. As my good friend Michael Neill puts it ‘Happy people are
successful far more often than successful people are happy’.