The Surprising Link between Good Posture and Happiness

It is truly incredible how the human body works sometimes. For example, take a look at our posture.  Something as small and simple as straightening your back while sitting and walking can have such a profound impact on your mental health, not to mention contributes to alleviating pesky back pain. According to research conducted by Professor Erik Peper of San Francisco State University, altering our body position to being more upright can improve our energy levels and mood. “When sitting upright and looking upward,” Peper wrote, “it was difficult and for many almost impossible to recall hopeless, helpless, powerless, and negative memories and easier to recall empowering positive memories.” The next time you are feeling blue and are having “one of those days”, try straightening your posture. Granted, this is not a substitute for professional help but can supplement treatment.

Why does posture affect mood?

The effect posture has on our mood is predominantly psychological. While the saying “you are what you eat” applies to the body, “you are what you think” is a similar idea for the mind. Feeling down and sad produces a slouched posture and having the slouched posture can produce the sad thoughts. This phenomenon is known as embodied cognition, a theory fleshed out by and Francisco J. Varela , Elanor Rosch and Evan Thompson in their 1991 book by the same name The Embodied Mind. Essentially, the body and mind’s relationship is a two-way street—the body is connected to the mind while, at the same time, the mind impacts the body.

In a research study from 2015, participants in a more upright position experienced higher self-esteem and self-confidence. This position led this group of participants to have “better moods, and lower fears”. Some suggest that this kind of effect is imbedded in our genes when our ancestors used body language to attract mates, defend territory and other social settings. Standing tall, chest out and chin held high is a sign of dominance. Where this confidence is real or now is still up for debate, but as they say, fake it until you make it.

How to fix posture

Now that we know more about why this connection exists, it’s time to see how what changes can be made to improve posture. Some things are obvious, if you work at a desk for hours, being conscious of how you are sitting. Avoid slouching or leaning forward. Focus more on leaning back against the back rest. Knees should be even with your hips and both feet should be flat on the floor. Try to avoid crossing your legs. Finally, make sure your shoulders are straight. This helps align the spine and can help reduce back pain. Also, it is wise to invest in an ergonomic chair. These chairs are specifically designed to support the back.

For those who are on their feet more, there are a few adjustments you can make that helps boost your posture. The main thing to do is make sure your weight is focused more on the balls of your feet, rather than on the heels. Make sure not to push your head out forward, but have it squared between your shoulders. Having your arms hang naturally by your side helps to improve posture. If you happen to be on your feet for long stretches of time, make sure to shift weight between on foot to the other. This helps from overworking one side of your body.

Stand tall, be happy

There are exercises that help improve posture for those that are looking for more. It should be no surprised that most of the exercises focus on improving core strength and back strength. The important thing to remember when strengthen yourself is not to over exert yourself, otherwise, it will create more problems than it solves.

While more research continues to explore the link between posture and happiness, the early results are promising. Incorporating a few simple routines and being more mindful of your body can help improve your mood and decrease back pain.

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