Act the Way You Want to FeelFebruary 2 , 2012

Did you know that an artificially induced smile (biting a pencil lengthwise without touching it with your lips) can make you happier?  Or that botox treatment, which paralyzes frowning muscles, makes it harder to feel angry or sad?

Most of us believe that our actions follow from how we feel, but in fact we often feel because of the way we act.   And this provides one of the simplest and most powerful tools for changing how we feel.

Last week we talked about how to differentiate necessary from gratuitous negativity [check it out here].  Today, we’re going to talk about one of the simplest ways to reduce gratuitous negative emotions: simply act the way you want to feel.

Your brain seeks consistency between your physical body and your emotional state.  When they are out of sync, your brain works to bring them into alignment with each other.

“Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”   – William James

So next time you want to feel differently, try ACTING the way you want to feel, even if it feels forced at first.  If you want to feel happier, put on a fake smile– activating those smile muscles has been shown to release neurochemicals that make you feel happier.   If you want to feel more energetic, jump into an activity with both feet and fully participate.

If you want to feel confident, stand up straight, look people in the eye and use an assertive handshake.  If you want to feel relaxed, breathe deeply in the belly and systematically release the tension in your shoulders and face muscles.  These activities, even when they don’t initially fit with how you feel, can induce the emotion you want – to make you feel happier, more energetic, confident or relaxed.

Word of caution

This isn’t the same as the old adage, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”  Yes, go ahead and fake it, but only for a short period of time – a few minutes at most.  If it doesn’t take initially, try again a few minutes or an hour later, but if that still doesn’t work, STOP trying.  Studies have shown that maintaining this inconsistency causes a lot of stress within the body.  In fact, regularly faking emotions that you don’t feel, can be as bad for your health as the stress of continuous anger.

Implementing an act the way you want to feel stategy:

  1. First, acknowledge what you are feeling [review details here].
  2. Determine if the negativity you are feeling is necessary or gratuitous [review here]
  3. If gratuitous, try to act the way you want to feel as described above
  4. If that doesn’t work, move on to one of the other tools that I’ll be discussing in upcoming weeks.  (Watch for my teleclass on this subject in March, too!)

Stay tuned next week as we take a short break from managing negativity for a pre-Valentine’s Day edition of the newsletter with guest co-writer, Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus (, a relationship and intimacy counselor and educator.   We’ll be exploring how to get more happiness within your primary relationship.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

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