“You can’t feel your way to better behavior, but you can behave your way to better feelings.” This is from the Total Transformation audio program by James Lehman on parenting that I listened to years ago, but the track still pops up when I shuffle through my music library.

Said another way…Fake it ’til you make it…Or to quote Nike, “Just do it.”

What is it? It’s…Feeling good. Being happy. Having a positive outlook. Being confident…And doing those things even if you’re not.

In the Total Transformation program, Lehman talked about how to get children with behavior problems to behave properly. He was not a believer in talk therapy—he felt that talk therapy just gave kids a way to create excuses. But if a child who was rude or mean or disobedient started behaving in a different way—and received positive feedback for the new behavior—the child’s behavior would change, as would his/her self-image.

Beyond altering children’s behavior, Lehman was right about behaving your way to feeling better. How we hold and move our body can have a positive impact on our behavior and our mood, and sometimes even affect the hormones that drive mood. So obvious…so simple…such a good idea.

So let’s take a moment to look at yourself. What is your body position? Are your shoulders slumped? Are you looking straight ahead or looking down? (I’m guessing looking down because you’re looking at a screen.) Is your face tense or soft?  Now, how are you feeling? Happy or tense? Confident or “small”? One more exercise…sit back, look up, shoulders back and smile. Now, how do you feel? Better? More open? Lighter? Dare I say, happier? 

Crazy, right? I am like the fool who keeps doing the same thing, expecting a different outcome. Every time I put my shoulders back and look up instead of down and smile, I shock myself at how much better I feel. 

It’s really true. How we hold ourselves has a huge impact on how we feel.

Studies have shown that the simple act of smiling has an enormous chemical and emotional effect on our bodies, releasing an entire cocktail of feel-good hormones—dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. With all that feel-good, you’d think that we would smile all the time, wouldn’t you? Well, here’s a sad fact: Babies smile approximately 400 times per day, yet adults smile 20 time, on average. So ponder this…If smiling releases feel good hormones, and adults only smile 20 times a day, perhaps there is a connection between our rate of smiling and the pervasive complaints of stress, malaise and depression?  

Need some additional confidence?  Amy Cuddy and her Harvard cohorts published a study in 2012 about power posing. The premise was that people who struck power poses (think Wonder Woman hands on hips) for two minutes felt more confident and powerful and performed better in interviews. Cuddy’s Ted Talk on the topic received more than 50 million views. There were those who tried to debunk her results, but she recently published an additional meta-analysis that demonstrates the validity of her findings. My younger daughter told me that she struck the Wonder Woman pose before any phone or Skype job interview…it seemed to work, as she accepted a job offer two days after her college graduation.

Other studies have shown a connection between posture and depression. Better posture…less depression.

And then there’s the simple act of looking up rather than down. I don’t have any studies on this one…just my experience, though I guess it’s related to posture. I realized a while back that I spend an awful lot of time looking down. I don’t just mean looking at my screens. I mean when I walk, when I sit…I actually became aware of the effects of looking down when I was skiing. I could ski the expert trails all over the mountain, yet I didn’t feel confident. I also spent the whole time focused on the ground about five feet in front of me, forcing me to ski small. When I took a moment and actually looked up while skiing, I was amazed at how differently I skied and how much different I felt. Far more open and confident. It was crazy. I started watching myself in other places, too, when I was sitting or walking. Always small and down. Being a relatively introverted person, I realized that this is some kind of self-protection. And that when I look up and face the world with confidence, my entire being feels better. 

There’s a whole lot of unhappy, irritable, cranky people in the world. What if, rather than being given medication for their mood issues, they simply shifted their posture? What if feeling better and happier were as simple as holding your body in a way that felt more open and more confident? No cost. No dangerous side effects. No health-care system. Just look up, shoulders back, hands on your hips if you’d like, and smile.

Here’s another idea. Let’s get a whole viral happiness thing going. Smiles are infectious. When you smile, others smile back at you. We could all shift our posture, put a smile on our faces and create a whole smile parade. Now wouldn’t that feel good!