Can sticky tape make you happier?


When I was little, mom told me not to make a bad face or it could get stuck that way. Turns out there may be several layers of truth to that adage.

Our emotions are intimately linked with our facial muscles. Just watch a young child when they are happy or sad. No matter the culture, facial movements for emotion are similar and they are linked to our emotional control center- the amygdala. Researchers  found that when the corrugator supercilli muscle (it draws your brows down and together to frown) was paralyzed by botox vs. saline injections in a double blind study, the subjects that could not frown reported feeling 47.1% less depressed than the salt water group who felt only 9.2% improved. Another study asked subjects to keep their faces neutral while looking at positive or negative images. Keeping a blank face seemed to blunt some of the emotional responses to the videos.

So where does the tape come in? I wanted to see if I would feel a difference in my mood by trying to become more aware of frowning and eliminate it, if possible. Botox is an expensive option so I set a reminder on my phone every 30 mins. to tell me to relax my face completely like we do in yoga and meditation. I was surprised to find how much relaxing I had to do. Try it right now and you’ll see what I mean. While I didn’t feel happier per say, the TMJ that makes my jaw hurt sometimes, did improve.

Then I saw an ad for Frownies– expensive bits of tape meant to reduce wrinkles by keeping your face still. Kid you not. It’s real and probably safer than household tape but sometimes one should live on the edge 🙂 I reached for the Scotch tape after finding paper medical tape fell off and duct tape was painful. Trust me- NO duct tape! New appreciation for the sisters who wax. This works best on clean, intact, dry skin and you can’t reposition it or it looses adhesion. Sensitive skinned types should test this out in a less conspicuous location before going to the middle of the face. A small, one inch, piece of tape right between the eyebrows (not over- remember the waxing shout out), will really make you aware of how your face moves during the day! I found out that my reading glasses needed to be refit since I was frowning anytime they moved down my nose. Without sunglasses, I frowned outdoors. After several days of experimentation, I would say I felt more relaxed and optimistic in frown restriction mode, but I count myself lucky to be a generally happy sort, so perhaps the difference was not as large as it was for depressed study subjects.

Is this just silly or do I have a point? When discussing this self experiment with my daughter, she shared the story of the man in the 1970’s who wrote that he was going to walk to the Golden Gate bridge and if anybody smiled at him he wouldn’t jump. No one did and he took his life. It’s never too late to smile more and frown less. Smiles ripple out from you to the world beyond. There is a small pile of win-wins in this world and this is one.

A word of warning- do not forget you have tape stuck on your face if you have to answer the doorbell. Sorry FedEx man. Yes- it was very funny. It certainly made him happier!

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