When we are sad, this state of mind is reflected in our body through a series of subtle changes: the expression of our face changes, the shoulders sag, the back bends slightly and our movements are slower. Likewise, even when we feel happy we express it with our body and change the way we move.
Therefore, researchers at Witten Herdecke University in Germany wondered if we can become more positive simply by changing the way we walk. Without thinking twice they got to work. They recruited 39 volunteers and gave them a list of negative and positive words to read. After reading, everyone has to walk on a treadmill.
As they walked, the researchers observed each participant's posture and movements. At this point, some were given instructions on how to walk, for example, the "happy" mode involved moving the shoulders back, having the arms more relaxed, the head held high and the body balanced. The others were given opposite directions, so that they adopted the typical gait of those who feel sad and depressed.
After 8 minutes of tape practice, everyone was asked to remember most of the words on the list they had read. Thus it could be observed that those who had adopted a "happy" gait remembered a greater number of positive words, while those who had adopted a "sad" style remembered negative words. In particular, those who adopted the "happy mode" remembered three times as many positive words.
These findings confirm previous research and suggest that when we feel sad and depressed we have a tendency to focus on the negative aspects of the situation and remember the most painful events, what is known as a "depressive state of mind". When we have entered this state of mind, we sink into a cycle of negativity that is very difficult to abandon, it is as if we are wearing gray lenses to see the world through them, without realizing it.
However, the interesting side of the experiment is that simply by changing the way we walk we can break this vicious circle. In fact, this isn't the first study to show that small variations in our posture or expressions can make us more or less happy. For example, we know that by pretending to smile our mood improves. Because?
The explanation is simple: our brain constantly monitors our body and our movements, it is what is known as "embodied cognition", a theoretical model according to which our moods and thoughts are not only reflected in the body but affect also on our mood and our mind. It is a two-way relationship. Therefore, when we smile or adopt a relaxed posture, we are sending a very clear message to our brain: we feel comfortable, we are happy.