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Happiness Is Looking Up!

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Happiness is looking up, and I mean this quite literally!

Let me explain. Some years ago I was speaking to a friend and clinical hypnotherapy colleague who has a reputation for successfully helping people to overcome mild depression. During a lunch-time discussion about different techniques he told me, "I get them to count chimney pots." Not surprisingly, I pushed him for more information. He explained that as homework he asked his patients to count how many chimney pots they saw in and around where they lived and worked and to report that number back to him the following week. Whatever the number of chimneys they counted (there are a lot in London boroughs), they always reported that their mood had improved since the last session.

A strange practice

You may have guessed why this strange practice works. It encourages people to walk with their head held high and their eyes looking upward. This is in complete contrast to the body language of people who feel depressed. Just imagine, if you felt depressed right now, how would your body language change? Most likely, your shoulders would slouch, your head would bow and your eyes would look at the floor. It is no coincidence that we describe ourselves as feeling "low," in a "low mood," feeling "downcast" and "down in the dumps." By contrast, we can feel "high," "uplifted," and as "high as a kite." So, it is possible to change the way you feel by simply changing your body language? The answer is, Yes!

We are what we do

Although it might seem an over-simplistic and unrealistic idea, science supports the idea that we can change how we feel by first changing our body language. Embodied cognition is the idea that not only does our mind influence our body, but our body also influences our mind. There is some very interesting research that shows we can increase our feeling of power by simply adopting recognized "power poses" to influence our brain chemicals as explained in this TED talk by one of the study's researchers Amy Cuddy.

Good news/bad news

This then, should be good news? By simply changing our body language we can change the way we feel. The bad news is that personal technology is working against this principle and encouraging more of us to bend over our mobile phone and/or laptop whilst we text, write and read emails. We may be making ourselves sad when there is no reason or illness to make us feel depressed.

Want to know how large the scale of this problem is? First, I will need to persuade you to turn off your mobile phone or put it away. Then, take a look around you whilst you travel on public transport or walk on a busy street or sit in a café. Where are people looking? Down, looking at their personal technology devices and unintentionally, adopting the posture of a sad person.

Connecting or disconnecting?

If you find yourself in low mood, maybe you could consider a technology break to see if it makes a difference but would you be willing and able to do so? It seems to me that we are gaining a global connection that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago but at the expense of connecting with those near to us, both in proximity and in relationships.

There are few places that are mobile free and until recently, taking a flight was one. Increasingly though, more airlines are offering their customers Internet connections. If you've flown recently you may have noticed the pings and rings of mobile phones connecting to the Internet as soon as the aircraft's nose-wheel hits the tarmac and Internet-deprived passengers get connected (or should I say disconnected?) once again. In the future, will the sanctity of a peaceful air travel be interrupted with the sound of "I'm on the plane!" like many train journeys are nowadays.

Is there a solution?
What's the answer to this problem? I don't think it's enough to realize we are harming ourselves, after all, most of us are addicted to our technical gadgetry. Given the choice would you stay in a hotel with no internet on your annual family holiday? Maybe in the future, we can read out messages on the top of specially designed glasses or have our computer screens mounted on the ceiling? In the meantime, just remember, anytime you're feeling down, happiness is looking up!