Scientific research has shown that, regardless of your current mood, the simple act of smiling will make you happier. Looking at yourself in a mirror while you smile increases the effect. The scientists call this the facial feedback theory of emotion. It was even noted by Charles Darwin as early as 1872: “The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it.” One study suggested that people with botox injections who cannot frown are happier on average. Basically, the outward expression of emotion isn’t just a reflection of mood, it helps produce our mood. Google it if you don’t believe me.
At this point, you’re asking yourself: what does any of this have to do with Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal in northern India?
Calm down, sparky. I’m getting there.
I freely admit that I am grumpy in large crowds of tourists. This is definitely hypocritical, as I’m usually a tourist myself in those situations. To avoid Paul the Grouch, we decided to arrive at the Taj Mahal for sunrise, hopefully beating the crowds. Our plan was to hire a driver and make it a day trip from New Delhi. We’d known people that successfully enjoyed sunrise at the Taj this way, but our driver was late, then we had an hour-long argument with him about whether he would take the new toll road (he didn’t want to) or the old slow road (that takes two or three times longer to drive).
Delays added up, and we arrived at the Taj at peak time in the morning. There were lots of people, tripping over each other to get the same picture. I was grumpy. I was so grumpy, in fact, that I got cynical about the beautiful love story behind the Taj itself. “He probably didn’t even love her that much,” I said. “She was probably just one of his 40 wives, practically a slave. What BS.” It is actually a nice story – I recommend listening to the audio tour when you visit the Taj – but I couldn’t see that. I didn’t care about love. Paul the Grouch was in full effect.
Paul the Grouch doesn’t agree to do much, but Jacque finally convinced him to take a picture. We found a relatively low-traffic area of the grounds with a nice view of the Taj itself. We started taking jumping pictures, one of our favorite ways to put some motion in our selfies. They’re difficult to get right due to the timing and the perspective from a camera that’s on the ground, so it took us a while. Each attempt was a jump for joy. People gave us odd looks; they always do. Eventually, a Chinese couple came up to us with their iPad, asking us to take a similar picture of them. We obviously obliged. After several more minutes of jumping for joy and reviewing the pictures of ourselves jumping for joy, something amazing happened: Paul the Grouch disappeared.
Here’s where the research comes in. I think that the simple act of literally jumping for joy, the outward expression of the emotion, affected my mood. Reviewing the pictures reinforced the emotion, just like looking in a mirror. Or maybe it was the funny looks we got for being different, which made me feel a little less like one of the herd of tourists. Whatever it was, I became happy again, back to just Paul. The day was saved.