Happy people walk differently from people who are unhappy, and scientists are finding that taking a certain stride may give your mood a boost.
Research shows people’s mood affects how they walk. When people are happy, they tend to walk faster and more upright, swing their arms and move up and down more, and sway less side to side than sad or depressed people.
A recent study found that deliberately walking like a happy person can lift one’s spirits. And adopting the gait of a depressed person can bring on sadness. Scientists behind the study, which was published online in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry in September, hope to determine if a small change in outward behavior like how we walk could work in a clinical setting to help treat depression.
“There is a mutual influence between mood and body and movement,” said Johannes Michalak, a professor in the department of psychology and psychotherapy at Germany’s Witten Herdecke University and first author of the study. “There might be specific types of movements that are specific characteristics of depression and this feeds the lower mood. So it’s a vicious cycle,” he said.
A range of studies have found many little ways we can improve our mood, from talking to strangers to arranging a match between friends. Even abstaining from temptations such as chocolate can help boost our state of relative happiness by helping us appreciate experiences that are repeated in everyday life.
“There are these little doses of social interactions that are available in our day” that can brighten our mood and create a sense of belonging. “I don’t think people recognize this,” said Elizabeth Dunn, an associate psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, who co-authored a study last year of customers’ interactions with Starbucks baristas.