The As If Principle explains how our emotions and thoughts are reactions to our bodily sensations, and not the other way around. Thus we feel happy because we smile! Once you learn how to take advantage of this simple rule, you can improve many facets of your life – from how you eat to how you feel about yourself to even how your body ages.
Do you smile when you’re happy? Research has shown that if you smile first, happiness will follow.
Philosopher William James first theorized this idea, saying, “If you want to have a quality, act as if you already have it.”
James's ideas followed work by Charles Darwin, who established the theory that a person is able to discern another person’s feelings by observing their facial expressions.
James in turn wanted to see if facial expressions actually caused those particular feelings. He postulated that people don't smile because they're happy, but that they're happy because they smile. Similarly, you become afraid by running away from a threat, and not the other way around.
Studies have shown that people actually feel happier when they force themselves to smile. In one experiment, participants were told the study was examining electrical activity in muscles.
Researchers attached electrodes to each participant’s face and measured their reactions as they made different faces. The researchers discovered that when participants smiled, they started to feel happier, even though they knew they were just smiling for an experiment.
American psychologist Paul Ekman found that this sort of principle exists all over the world, regardless of culture, from the United States to remote islands in Indonesia.
When people look frightened, their heart rate speeds up and their skin temperature drops. When they smile, their heart rate falls and their skin temperature rises.
So if you act as if you're experiencing an emotion, it doesn't just affect how you feel – it affects your body. So if you want to feel happy, act as if you already are. This is the “as if” principle.
The “as if” principle can apply to many aspects of our lives. Psychologist Sara Snodgrass found that people who take longer steps, walk with a slight bounce and swing their arms, tend to feel happier than people who take small steps and slouch.