Smile therapy

and the dangers of television

by Marcus Loane

16th Feb 2010

Experiments have shown that subjects rated jokes as being funnier if they were forced to smile. The act of smiling fools the brain into feeling happier. Knowing this it makes sense to deliberately smile more, even if you are on your own. It will give you a little happiness boost. If it is inappropriate to be seen smiling then you can do an invisible smile. Imagine yourself smiling and feel just a hint of a smile tugging up the corners of your mouth and crinkling the sides of your eyes ever so slightly. You can imagine the smile radiating throughout your whole body and feel the happiness that accompanies it.

You can use the same principle of the body leading the brain by adopting a confident posture if you want to feel more confident. Stand up straight with shoulders back and chin up and look people in the eye.

If you want to feel relaxed then adopt a relaxed posture with shoulders down, relax all your muscles, avoid fidgeting and notice the gentle rise and fall of your breathing.

Music therapy

You can also deliberately influence your moods by choosing different types of music. If you need to feel energetic to get some physical task done then using fast paced energetic music may help. If you need to relax then classical, melancholic jazz or slow ballads may work for you.

Nature therapy and the dangers of television

You can deliberately manipulate your psychological states by changing or choosing the environments you spend your time in. If you spend your time in cluttered, noisy (think televison) untidy environments it will be more difficult to achieve a state of inner calm. Tidy people find mess more unnerving than untidy people so there is some individual variation here.

Some interesting studies have shown that more exposure to the greenery in nature has beneficial effects on young people's performance at school and in other areas. Teenagers were placed in similar buildings but with different amounts of greenery around them and their behaviour was monitored. It is quite surprising that having a few trees outside a tower block has measureable effects on the inhabitants’ mental states and behaviour.

We are often over-stimulated in modern environments with fast moving images on television screens and constant noise and interruptions from electronic devices. There have been alarming studies showing the detrimental effect of exposure to television to babies and young children. Watching television slowed down their development of language. In some homes the television may be on constantly and this background noise may make it very difficult for a toddler's developing brain to distinguish or even pay attention to the important sounds such as mum and dad talking. There have also been studies showing a link between television viewing hours and depression, obesity, heart disease and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and this was after taking out other factors such as social class. Another study showed increased aggression and slowed acquisition of reading skills in school children (the link to a summary of this is here).

A study was conducted comparing older people with or without dementia and their lifestyles in middle age. It was found that those who spent more time viewing television in middle age were more likely to develop dementia. In fact this was the only single activity that showed a link to developing dementia.

Researchers have also found that the more time spent watching television the more likely you are to die younger.

The CNN report is here.

‘The study followed 8,800 adults with no history of heart disease for more than six years. Compared to those who watched less than two hours of TV per day, people who watched four hours or more were 80 percent more likely to die from heart disease and 46 percent more likely to die from any cause. All told, 284 people died during the study.

The pattern held even after the researchers took into account the education level and overall health of the participants -- their age, whether they smoked, and their cholesterol and blood pressure, for example.

Television isn't lethal in and of itself; the real problem appears to be that sitting is the "default position" for TV viewing, says lead study author David Dunstan, Ph.D., the head of the physical activity lab at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, a national research center in Victoria, Australia.


"Prolonged watching of television equals a lot of sitting, which invariably means there's an absence of muscle movement," Dunstan says. If your muscles stay inactive for too long, it can disrupt your metabolism, he explains.


Television isn't necessarily replacing our exercise time, he explains, but it is replacing everyday, "non-sweaty" movements as basic as standing and walking from room to room. The positive health effects of these seemingly negligible activities are underestimated, he says.


Another study linking television viewing of over two hours a day with increased risk of heart attacks is reported here.

A walk in the park

Getting a dose of nature is very good for us. We are part of it and our ancestors grew up in it. We should not be surprised that it has a satisfying, grounding effect on us.


Marcus Loane


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