More About Faces and Mood

Today I spoke to someone who has been looking at his face in a mirror every morning to raise his mood. “It’s a big effect,” he said. It raises his mood “about 30 points” on a 0-100 scale where 0 = misery, 50 = neutral, and 100 = ecstasy. He starts around 6 am and does it for about an hour. This is close to what I observed with TV faces: one hour of faces at the best time produced about a 30-point improvement.

Thirty points, however wonderful, is not enough to change his life, he said; he would need 60 points for that. He has been in and out of mental hospitals several times and of course mental illness of that severity destroys all sorts of things we need, such as a decent job and friendships. As he looked at the diagram (two causes of depression) on p. 237 of my self-experimentation paper, his situation sunk in on him. It wasn’t just lack of morning faces that was making him depressed; it was also on-going life events.

My guess is that most Americans, asked to rate their mood, would say they are around 50 — neutral. Sure, they procrastinate, and bad traffic bothers them, but on the whole life is okay. But when something awful happens — they lose a job or a spouse, for example — their mood goes way down and takes a very long time to come back up. It is like AIDS. Our mood regulatory system, which requires morning faces to work properly, functions like our immune system to fight off damage and push us back to normal. In most people, unfortunately, that system is broken, just as AIDS sufferers lack a working immune system. So many people have far too much trouble getting rid of crippling bad moods. I suspect that most addictions, including the food addictions behind serious obesity, Internet addiction and video-game addiction, are self-medication to get rid of bad mood. It is the fact that the addictive act pushes a mood of 20 or 30 up to 50 that makes it so attractive. One of my students investigated the connection between depression and drug addiction; in her small sample, the depression always came first.

Earlier post about faces and mood.

Addendum: A February 2007 article in the American Journal of Psychiatry about bariatric-surgery candidates (average BMI = 52) reported this:

The discrepancy between lifetime and current substance use disorders was striking (32.6% versus 1.7%).

In other words, they used to take drugs but they don’t any more — possibly because food has replaced drugs.