Can forcing a smile make you happier?

Smiling doesn’t come easy for me at this time of year. The rain, the post Christmas bank balance, the measly eight hours of daylight we get at this latitude, etc… all this doesn’t make for a very happy bunny. Hence the Mrs’s nickname for me: Misery Guts. But last week – my first ‘intense’ week of training for June’s Marathon des Cote (MdC) – taught me a valuable lesson.

Can forcing a smile make you happier?

Can forcing a smile make you happier?

It was on Thursday night that it struck me. I was in a right pecker. I’d been forced to postpone the previous day’s long run because of work commitments and it had been weighing on my mind (each week I aim for long runs on three consecutive days to prepare for the MdC). It was gone eight as I was lacing up my trainers, which meant I wouldn’t be back by gone 10. ‘Smile!’ said the Mrs as I left the flat with a face looking like a slapped arse.

About a mile in I gave it a try. Not a little grimace, but a full on, toothy, sunny rictus. My legs were stiff and complaining and I was still pissed off about the late hour I would finally get a chance to curl up on the sofa, so it took some effort to get the edges of my mouth pointing in the right direction. But I persevered. And after a minute or so of beaming like I’d been dropped in a vat of Prozac, my mood began to lighten. Running gradually became easier. I began to notice how clear the skies and bright the stars were that night. Running and smiling was soon no longer an effort. I ended up having the best run of my week (see below).

Which got me thinking. Of course, we smile when we’re happy, but maybe it works both ways; can forcing a smile make you happier?  For the rest of the week I’ve been putting it to the test. I’m not sure if it really makes me happy (my nickname is Misery Guts after all), but it definitely makes things (running up steep hills, getting up at the crack of dawn, trying to get three screaming kids fed, bathed and in bed before seven, whatever) more bearable; easier, even.

So now I’ve set myself a new goal: smile, whatever’s happening. Particularly if I’m feeling gloomy. This week it might be a bit easier. It’s my first recovery week of this 24 week training schedule. That means my longest run is only two hours and my total mileage is about 30 miles (see the above picture), rather than this week’s 50 or so. Phew. Last week was tough.

So I’m smiling now. And I’m not even trying.

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