Head up, shoulders back, and you feel better right away. Body language has been proven to impact on our sense of wellbeing. You’ll find out why in this article – as well as how smiling affects you physically and how to use this to your advantage.

Body language

Research on body language

Psychologists at the University of Potsdam have found that our posture influences how we feel and act, affecting our wellbeing. In their study, participants were positioned in either chairs or loungers. All of the test persons received negative feedback on their work. The position in which the participants were sitting had a major effect on how they responded to this criticism. The people lying back in the loungers had a more relaxed reaction and were less resentful afterward. The people sitting upright in the chairs, on the other hand, were highly annoyed and retaliated by giving bad feedback themselves.

The psychologists explained this effect by postulating that relaxation and anger are incompatible feelings that cannot be experienced simultaneously. This meant that the participants who were lounging in a relaxed manner took a more relaxed approach to the feedback as well. It also suggests that our bodily sensations are intertwined with our emotions.

The influence of hormones

Amy Cuddy, psychologist at Harvard University, conducted a study on the topic of body language and power. Does “power posing,” as she calls it, make us feel stronger and willing take more risks?

To find out, Cuddy had her participants take two low power poses followed by two high power poses for one minute each. High power poses are positions that take up space, like putting your hands on your hips, standing with your legs slightly apart, and open posture. In contrast, low power poses include a slightly slumped posture when sitting, hands folded in your lap. By taking saliva samples, Cuddy discovered that participants in low power positions experienced an increase in levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Both male and female participants who assumed high power poses, however, experienced increases in testosterone, the hormone of dominance.

This shows that the feelings of authority that come from assuming high power poses are even reflected in our hormone levels. The test persons in slouching positions felt a sense of unease, which was reflected in the higher levels of the stress hormone found in their bodies.

How can you benefit from these findings?

 1. Avoid low power poses

Are you reading this article on a smartphone? What is your posture like right now? Bent spine, lowered head, leaning forward? Such posture makes you smaller and does nothing for your self-confidence and mood. As you have just read, in this position your body releases more stress hormones, which negatively impact your sense of wellbeing.

Stretch, smile, and sit up straight. Pay attention to your posture the next time you use your smartphone.

2. Try high power poses

Why not try it right now? Head up, shoulders back, back straight, hands on your hips. Use only as much muscle strength as necessary, keeping your other muscles relaxed. How does this position make you feel? More confident, assertive, and in control? This might be due to the hormone testosterone, which gives you more vigor and a feeling of dominance. You can perform this pose in the morning after you get up for a more self-confident start to your day. Or do it secretly in the elevator or restroom before giving a presentation. Try it and see!

 3. Smiling makes you happy

Smiling also counts as part of your body language, and a genuine smile has an enormous impact. It creates positive feelings in you and in those who see it. It can also signal that we feel friendly toward others and that we trust them. Smiling can be contagious, because our brains are particularly quick to reflect positive emotions. Researchers at Baylor College in the United States found that looking at a smiling baby activates the reward center in our brains. By smiling we can also influence our own emotions – when you smile, you trick your own brain. It releases endorphins and you feel good. In addition, smiling has a relaxing effect on your body.

In the James-Lange theory, William James postulated that emotions are instigated by physiological reactions. This would mean that we aren’t smiling because we are happy, but that we are happy because we are smiling. Take advantage of this trick and use a smile to get yourself in a good mood.

If you want to increase your sense of wellbeing, smiling is a great place to start.

A smile combined with a power pose will make you invincible. Give it a try!