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According to numerous holiday and celebration sources, today is the day to ‘SCUD’, that is, to Savour the Comic and Unplug the Drama. Still a bit confused? So was I.

The basic idea behind the day is to remind people to focus on the bright side of life, and to stop being such drama queens and kings. Have some fun, take life a little less seriously, laugh more. And given the health benefits such a turn of attitude can bring, it’s certainly a day (and a sentiment) worth celebrating.

Don’t worry, be happy!
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It has long been suggested that, just like we tend to smile when we’re in a good mood, the arrow also points the other way – our mood may improve when we smile (the “facial feedback” hypothesis). This is nothing new – Charles Darwin already suggested in 1872 that “the free expression of outward signs of an emotion intensifies it”.

The problem is that scientifically proving this relationship is quite difficult, with various factors potentially affecting the results. it is possible that, aside from the action of smiling, the instruction to smile may also create an emotional response (positive or negative – try telling a teenager to smile and watch the reaction!). Furthermore, sitting in a room full of smiling people is likely to raise your mood, whether you’re smiling or not.

Various research projects have been reported where these problems have been innovatively addressed, for example, by asking recipients to hold a pencil either between their teeth (which mimicks a smiling action) or between their lips (which does not), or by using more neutral smiling instructions, such as “Move your lips to expose your teeth while keeping your mouth closed, and pull the corners of your lips outward”.

Once participants were made to simulate a smiling expression, their responses to various positive and negative stimuli were measured, and compared to non-smiling control groups. In general it has been found that the smiling action intensified the participants’ reaction to positive stimuli, but seems to have less impact in response to negative stimuli.

For example, looking at a funny cartoon will lift your mood more when you’re smiling than when you’re not. On the other hand, reading a list of your monthly debts is depressing, and smiling while reading it is unlikely to leave you notably less depressed.

[Strack (1988), Soussignan (2002)]

So, your assignment on SCUD Day is to think happy thoughts and to expose yourself to positive stimuli. At the same time, pack out a big smile, and you will double the positive impact. Oh, and while you’re at it, surround yourself by others doing the same thing – the positive reinforcement of seeing others happily smiling back at you will lift your mood even more.

Come on, Savour the Comic, Unplug the Drama!

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