By Heather Grace, IPJ Staff Writer
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Fake it til you make it.” And lots of people do, everyday. They act as if they have more know-how/money/power/status than they actually do. Sure—it’ll impress people for a time.
But… What if you don’t actually make it? Or the truth is discovered? That kind of “faking it” will likely lead to little more than a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. It could also result in a great deal of anxiety, as you worry you’ll be found out. Or worse—knowing the real you may never live up to the fake you could cause depression.
I don’t hide behind tall tales, it’s just not who I am. Being an open book is what comes naturally to me—especially with friends & people with whom I share a bond (like the chronically ill, for instance).
I also appreciate realness in every aspect of my life. I’m not about to change my stance dramatically. However, there is a kind of “faking it” that can pay off… and in a big way!
Chronic Illness / Chronic Pain Blues
I could probably write over one hundred sad songs with all the bad days I’ve had in the past 42 years. I’ve been sick since I was a baby, with recurrent ear/nose/throat infections. By age 8ish, I was a fullblown endocrine nightmare as well. I was in/out of doctors offices & labs. My list of diagnoses seemed to grow every few years. No, it wasn’t exactly easy growing up sickly… add to that my very rocky family life (understatement of the century)—and you’d expect sorrow enough to fill a handful of blues albums, easy!
But that wasn’t me. I was like Tigger throughout my childhood & into my 20s—cheerful, looking to just be happy & experience life. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. Hurdles, smurdles!
That was who I was up until 1999, when a work-related cervical spine injury started causing me pain as well as numbness. Working in the IT field meant long days on a computer. The pain was chronic, due to my constantly heavy workload. Thanks to the oh-so-helpful CA Workers’ Compensation System, my chronic pain became intractable pain—both constant AND severe—by 2003.
It was sheer hell and I still don’t know how I survived 2003-2006. I was seriously screwed up—but refused to believe *I* of all people was permanently disabled. But the blues began to set in, anyway.
By mid-2006, things were beyond bad. I’d hoped & prayed for years that my final surgery—microsurgery on the crushed disc in my neck—would solve everything. No one really warned me to manage expectations. No one said, “It could get better, or it could get much worse—we cannot predict which will happen.” They should have!
My spine surgery made things much, much worse. When the neck brace came off and I was set to begin rehab, I knew something was very wrong. I told the Physical Therapist that my neck didn’t feel right, like the joints was worn or had sand grinding in it. The pain and neurological sensations were strange to me—nearly indescribable—at the time. But whatever was going on, I was worried. And later, I’d learn why:
Work Comp granted this much-needed surgery too late for it to do much good. Success was not all that likely. My first MRI showing the problem was in 2001, after two years of fighting to get a more definitive test than an x-ray! But, it would take another FIVE YEARS for them to actually do the surgery?! Because my neck surgery happened much too late to prevent the nerve damage that invaded my spinal column and took over, a negative outcome should have been more easy to predict. I’d already been a serious neurological mess for at least two years. So conservatively, my chances were 50-50 that it would help, at best.
After all I’d been through with the pain, multiple nerve surgeries, epidurals & other torturous interventions that I didn’t want or need but was forced into, extreme job stress/a subsequent dubious lay-off, failed spinal surgery & worst of all—a dwindling support system, I was extremely suicidal.
Before 1999, I’d never have believed it was possible for things to go that wrong by 2006. Not for me. But the pain and numbness were so severe, they consumed my days and kept me up every night. On a good night, I got two hours sleep. I was also so alone and afraid of what my future would look like, I had no strength left in me to fight. I just wanted to die. Because I would only settle for guaranteed death, I was constantly thinking about how to do it. Finally, I decided I’d fly off the side of the freeway at a specific point I picked out, so my sporty little car would slam into the cement bridgework below.
Twice, I tried to go through with it. The only reason I didn’t actually do it was because I was waited to see if I might hit someone passing by on the rode below. After all, the end of nightmare shouldn’t be the start of someone else’s. Sitting on the side of the road, I imagined myself doing it, over & over. Everytime I pictured my car hitting the cement area I selected, I stared at the roadway below & said: Now!
Each time I did so, a car drove by. It happened over & over—both times—despite it being in an area of Orange County where very few people were on the road in the pre-dawn hours of the morning. It was infuriating!
The second time I was so crushingly disappointed and angry, I was slamming my fists into the steering wheel—hard—as I scream-cried so loudly, I worried someone would call the police. Then, the answer came to me, out of nowhere: See just one more doctor & if he can’t help, I’ll go through with my “backup plan”—cars or not.
I’ve never experienced such clarity in my life… it felt like divine intervention, even then. And now, I am certain it was!
Thankfully, that one doctor turned out to be the one! I started 2007 anew. With his help, the intactractable pain was under control & I could smile again. I was still in pain—and I always will be—but at least it’s bearable. No chronic illness / chronic pain blues. No thoughts of suicide. In fact, I can hardly believe the person who was planning every detail of her death in 2006 was actually me. Pain management was my miracle, truly!
Even on the worst days, I am so thankful I found help and got a second chance at life. Suicide seemed like my only way out, but clearly, it wasn’t. Deep down in my soul, I know I could never let myself get to that dark place ever again. I’d reach out for help, however I had to, even if it was by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255 or going to the closest ER. I’ve learned so much by standing on that ledge, staring into the abyss. (Though I’d never recommend it!)
Unfortunately my health problems are back, with a vengeance. Things started to get worse five short years after I found my wonderful Intractable Pain doctor. I now have an autoimmune disorder that’s yet to be fully diagnosed or controlled. Autoimmune health is complex. Many of my symptoms are common to several different illnesses. In time, I’ve got to believe I’ll get the answer to a question that I believe dates back to my childhood endocrine issues. What’s certain is that my hormones are a mess. So of course, the blues are also back. I’m very thankful that I’m not suicidal, but still… Fate is a cruel mistress.
Faking A Smile—One Fake Happy Day
Instead of spending another damn day crying over anything & everything that’s wrong, an idea came to me today, based on some very applicable research I’d read a few years ago (see article below).
Research in recent years has shown that there may be a real benefit to putting on a fake smile. According to many experts, smiling isn’t just a way to express happiness… It may actually be able to cause a happy feeling. Sure, it’s counterintuitive. After all, we smile without giving it a thought when we’re truly happy. But when it comes to the smile-happiness connection, a growing body of evidence supports the theory that happiness is also possible, as an effect of smiling.
So, my mission is to try that theory out, at this very low point in my life. I have no expectations, I mean, how can I? I’m the all-real, all-the-time type. So fake isn’t exactly my style.
Still, I’m hoping there’s something to it! Even though there’s a whole lot wrong at the moment, in my entire life—from my health, to the roof over my head that’s about to be taken from me, to the hole in my pocket where money should be to pay bills—I know one thing for sure: smiling can’t hurt!
Everything’s gotten me so down, I’ve been having trouble getting back up again. So just today, I’m going to try smiling anyway.
It may seem silly to plaster on a fake expression, but I’ve worn the “I’m ok” mask for years, to hide how much pain I’m in. Why not take it a step further? Instead of faking just ok, I’m faking full-on zippity doo dah BLISS! I want out of this funk, darn it! Being this blue is very unlike me & it has absolutely no redeeming value. So, I’m getting out, if only for one day. (And if it works, the optimist in me says I’d be fine with faking happy it til I make it back there, for real. Somehow. Someway. Someday.)
Sure, I’m alone under a mountain of bills I can’t pay & I can’t seem to get to all the things I should have already done, no matter how hard I try… But, just for today, I’m smiling in spite of it all. Just for today—because who knows what tomorrow will bring? I’m hoping tomorrow I’ll have a reason to crack a smile, naturally… Being hopeful can’t hurt, either!
I’m trying on my 100% smile-til-it-hurts “fake happy” for 24 hours. I’ll let you know if it pays off, like the research says it should. If it turns out that it helps to grin for absolutely no good reason, I might just keep it up—who knows? Feel free to join me and take your very own fake smile for a test drive… I’m going to put the saying, “Fake it til you make it” to good use.
So if you see me, count on a smile, ear-to-ear. And if you say “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good night,” I have the perfect reply: It couldn’t possibly be bad!
About The Author
Heather Grace is an Intractable Pain Sufferer, Writer & Advocate. She’s Co-Director of the 501c3 nonprofit Intractable Pain Patients United (http://www.ippu.info), has been a Speaker/Conference Planner at For Grace’s (http://www.forgrace.org) annual Women in Pain Conference and is a Pain Ambassador for the U.S. Pain Foundation (http://uspainfoundation.org). She is also active on Twitter: @IntractablePain.
© 2011-2015 Intractable Pain Journal & Heather Grace. All rights reserved.
Does smiling make you happy?
by Julia Layton · 03 June 2009 · ©HowStuffWorks.com · http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/smiling-happy.htm
Smiling doesn’t seem like a particularly complicated act: You feel a happy emotion, the corners of your mouth turn up, your cheeks lift and your eyes crinkle. The overall effect tells the outside world that you’re feeling happy on the inside. It’s simple and, in most cases, totally spontaneous. We typically smile without making a concerted effort to do so.
In fact, most people are turned off by the appearance of a smile that takes effort, because so often it’s obvious it’s fake. It’s not hard to detect a fake smile — it usually involves only the mouth, not the eyes.
The appearance of a genuine smile, one involving specific changes in the eyes in addition to the mouth (notably a crinkling of “crow’s feet” and a downturn of the outer points of the eyes) is called a Duchenne smile, after the neurologist Guillaume Duchenne. Back in 1862 he identified the facial muscles involved in spontaneous smiling.
Awkward appearance aside, research performed over the past few decades suggests there could actually be a benefit to producing a fake smile. According to many experts, smiling may not only be an outward manifestation of a happy feeling. It may actually be able to cause a happy feeling.
It’s the exact opposite of how most people see the smile-happiness connection, but with a growing body of evidence supporting the effect, it seems there may be something to it. But does that mean you can just turn off every bad feeling by faking a smile? Could you be a truly, permanently happy person if you master the look?
In this article, we’ll look at the evidence for smiles causing happiness, see how significant the effect is and find out if there are other facial expressions that can trigger the emotions they’re supposed to reflect.
In the 1970s and 1980s, quite a few psychologists got in on the smile-research action, with surprisingly consistent results.
Evidence That Smiling Causes Happiness
In 1989, a psychologist named Robert Zajonc published one of the most significant studies on the emotional effect of producing a smile.
His subjects repeated vowel sounds that forced their faces into various expressions. To mimic some of the characteristics of a smile, they made the long “e” sound, which stretches the corners of the mouth outward. Other vowel sounds were also tested, including the long “u,” which forces the mouth into a pouty expression.
Subjects reported feeling good after making the long “e” sound, and feeling bad after the long “u.”
Other studies reported similar results. One had subjects make the positive and negative expressions by holding a pen in their mouths, either protruding outward for a pout or held lengthwise in the teeth to make a smile. In another, researchers had subjects mimic each physiological trait of a smile until their faces were in a full Duchenne expression.
In yet another experiment, one group of subjects was shown pictures of various facial expressions; another group made those facial expressions and a final group made those expressions while looking in the mirror.
The evidence all points toward smiling as a cause of happy feelings. Subjects were asked questions that pinpointed their emotional state before and after smiling, and they overwhelmingly scored happier after smiling. In the study involving the mirror, subjects who watched themselves smile saw an even more pronounced change in mood than those who smiled without the mirror, and the subjects who merely looked at pictures didn’t experience that change at all.
Those researchers hypothesized that self-consciousness is a factor in the effect — that introspective people might experience a greater smile-related mood lift than those who are less aware of their feelings. Thus the mirror-related boost. But what about the difference between those who looked at pictures and those who created the expressions? Why would the people who put their faces into a smile feel happier afterward?
Most other studies on the topic note the cause-and-effect relationship without having a definitive explanation for it. The reason why Dr. Zajonc’s research is so significant in the field is because he proposes a detailed, physiology-based explanation for the cause-and-effect relationship. According to his hypothesis, the facial changes involved in smiling have direct effects on certain brain activities associated with happiness.
Why Smiling Causes Happiness
While lots of research on smiles triggering happiness was performed in the last half-century, that spurt of interest was actually a renewed interest in the topic. The theory goes back to Darwin, who proposed in the 19th century that facial expressions didn’t only reflect emotions, but also caused them.
A lack of good evidence for how that happened was put the theory on the back burner for many years. But in the 1980s, some interesting studies on the physiology of smiling brought it back into the consciousness of the psychology field. One study found that when subjects contorted their faces to indicate fear, their body temperatures increased and their pulses sped up. Dr. Zajonc’s research took this observation further, into a full-fledged proposal for why a smile might trigger happiness. It basically goes like this:
When the temperature of any body part changes, the chemical activities connected with that area also change. Therefore, when facial muscles are activated in an expression, the biochemical processes associated with those areas of the face are altered according to their temperature change. And research suggests that a cooler brain creates good emotions, while a warmer brain produces negative emotions.
Zajonc points to the part of the body called the internal carotid artery, which is the “pipe” that delivers the majority of blood to the brain. This artery flows through an opening called the cavernous sinus, which contains lots of facial veins. When someone smiles, causing certain facial muscles to stretch and tighten, veins are constricted. This would cut down on the blood flowing to the cavernous sinus, which in turn would reduce the amount of blood flowing through the carotid artery to the brain. Less blood volume means the temperature of that blood drops.
When that cooler blood gets to the brain, brain temperature would drop, too, triggering a happy feeling. The theory works in reverse, too: Zajonc says that when the muscles involved in a frown tighten, the result is increased blood flow to the cavernous sinus and, by extension, a warmer brain.
So, if Zajonc is right — and not everybody thinks he is, but it’s an interesting possibility — does that mean you could avoid sadness for the rest of your life by faking a smile?
Definitely not. Even proponents of the theory don’t suggest that smiling can make unhappiness go away. The theory in a nutshell is: in a state of emotional neutrality, putting a smile on your face can tip you in the direction of a positive feeling.
So don’t walk into a funeral and make everybody smile as big as they can. You’ll look insensitive, and it probably won’t make anyone feel any better. [Editor’s note: But smiling to provoke happier feelings under the right circumstances sounds like a great way to chase away the blues, doesn’t it? Especially if it works!]
For more information on smiling and emotion, visit the links below.
1. “Can Smiling Make You Happy?” Research and Teaching Showcase. Department of Psychology, University of Alberta. April 1998. http://web.psych.ualberta.ca/~varn/bc/Kleinke.htm
2. Goleman, Daniel. “A Feel-Good Theory: A Smile Affects Mood.” The New York Times. July 18, 1989. http://www.nytimes.com/1989/07/18/science/a-feel-good-theory-a-smile-affects-mood.html?sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all
3. Lienhard, John H. “No. 883: Smiles That Make You Happy.” The Engines of Our Ingenuity. University of Houston College of Engineering.http://uh.edu/engines/epi883.htm
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