Sit up straight! Don’t slouch! Perhaps you have heard these mantras before in your life and likely rolled your eyes as it was being said. While you may have thought someone was just forcing you to be proper, the surprising thing is that your posture can dictate your mood and vice versa. Now, there’s even scientific evidence to back up this claim.
When you are sad and depressed, likely you will be slumped over. With your head down, neck and shoulders curved forward, the sadness pulls your body into a crumpled state. Now, cognitive scientists will say you are sitting this way because you are sad, but it’s also true that you are sad because you sitting this way. This is the idea of embodied cognition. While the definition can be a little more detailed, the basic meaning is that our mind can influence the way our body reacts and the body do the same to our brain.
This is also true when it comes to other feelings beyond sadness. Take confidence for instance. “The brain has an area that reflects confidence, but once that area is triggered it doesn’t matter exactly how it’s triggered,” says Richard Petty, a professor of psychology at the Ohio State University. “It can be difficult to distinguish real confidence from confidence that comes from just standing up straight … these things go both ways just like happiness leads to smiling, but also smiling leads to happiness.”
When we focus on posture, very fascinating things can happen when we correct our unbalanced bodies. One example is that if you do sit up straight, you will be more likely to remember positive memories or have a positive outlook in general.
A second example is skipping. If you skip around during a break from class or work, you can actually increase your energy level. Of course the opposite is also true. You will drain your energy quickly by not exercising and having a slow, slumped walk.
Your body language is also closely related to posture. It has even been determined that our posture and body language can even affect our thoughts. A simple study using college students determined that a person’s posture relegated their personal beliefs. During the study, students were asked to sit in a specific way (either sit up straight or to slouch). In these positions, students were then asked to write either 3 positive or 3 negative personal traits with regard to their future professional performance on the job. After this, the student then were asked to rate themselves on how they would do as a future employee.
The results were astounding. Their rating was in direct line with their posture. Those in a slumped posture tended to rate themselves in the negative range they gave, while those sitting up straight were much more positive.
This same study also gave light to how our opinions can be subconsciously influenced by our opinions. Some of the participants would nod in agreement or shake their heads to signal disagreement, which affected their opinions without them realizing.
Then there’s exercise. It is no secret that exercising releases endorphins, reduces cortisol levels which all leads to increased happiness and improved mood. Routinely exercising is very important for people who suffer from mood swings, anxiety and depression.
A classic line from the movie Legally Blonde was the weak, but understandable argument that Elle Woods makes about her accused, exercise crazed defendant who was on trial for murder. Woods says, “Exercise gives your endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands. They just don’t.” Again, while true that releasing endorphins can improve your mood, it is a rather poor argument that someone is not guilty of murder (although yes, in this case the defendant was indeed innocent).
Many teachers and professors have taken note of their students involvement or lack thereof when they sit for long periods of times. Taking a short stretch and exercise break can really promote increased classroom interactions and happiness.
The big takeaway here is to listen when someone tells you to sit up straight. Always consider your posture when driving, working or sitting at a computer screen. Remember that your posture can also affect your mood and how your view yourself as a person and an employee. Sit up straight and head to the gym to improve your happiness.
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