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Happiness Tip: Stand Up Straight

Starting in 6th grade — about the time when I became painfully self-conscious, and really didn’t want my mother’s advice — my mom started to nag me incessantly about sitting and standing up straight.

She got my pediatrician to talk to me about it, and she even created a code word for us that meant, “for god’s sake, improve your posture!” so she could remind me in public, theoretically to avoid embarrassment.

Oh, how I wish I’d listened to my mother. Turns out I probably would have been happier and more confident in middle school if I’d tried harder to sit up straight. Research shows that in adults, a straight spine increases confidence, while “a slumped posture leads to more helpless behaviors,” writes Emma Seppala from the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford. Hunching or slouching makes research subjects feel more stressed, and makes them more likely to give up in the face of challenge.

Take Action: Set an alarm or a timer that will remind you to stand or sit up straight once an hour. BONUS benefit: Research subjects who make an effort to improve their posture ALSO tend to improve other areas of their lives — for example, they tend to watch less TV and eat less junk foods!


  1. Erica Sumner says:

    You can also breathe easier, so I suspect that the increased intake of oxygen can improve your mood!

  2. I use my Outlook calendar to remind me things like this. I have one for neck stretches, quad stretches, pec stretch, side bends – all to counteract sitting at my computer. Do that often enough and sitting up straighter starts to come naturally 🙂

  3. Yes! I use this timer while I’m working: https://download.cnet.com/HealthWize-WorkSmart/3000-2129_4-75221989.html
    It reminds me to take a 5 minute break every 25 minutes, with different stretching suggestions each time. I have a serious problem with sitting hunched over, building tension in my neck, shoulders, and upper back, and triggering painful spasms in those muscles when I’m under stress, so that simple little app has been a tremendous help!

  4. Pilates! While yoga and tai chi are also wonderful, Pilates dedicates itself to core strength (good alignment which radiates to the rest of the body) and joint expansion (the “good morning stretch”). If nothing else, breathe well.

  5. Sandi C. says:

    Maybe it is the other way around – those who feel better will sit up straighter. I started slouching in 6th grade also – because I wasn’t prepared for becoming a woman. I had to buy my own first bra. My mother worked and was too busy. I had no mentor. Guidance counselors were too busy with too many kids (same happens today). 30 years later I am still combating rounded shoulders because after just a couple of weeks of slouching, your muscles no longer do their job of holding you up. You can no longer just sit up straight in a normal way. I just finished Physical Therapy for frozen shoulder. I do the exercises on my own now a few times a week. I think your article would be more helpful if you point to exercises to do. I already know I shouldn’t slouch and that people treat you poorly because of it. What people need is helpful exercises. I wish someone had helped me back then – I wanted to fix the problem but didn’t know how. You have to exercise the specific muscles of the wing area, like when you row a boat.

  6. Paula R says:

    I have a mantra to remind me of 3 things: Chin, choice and chew. Chin reminds me to pull my chin back which also means I drop my shoulders down and back and I stand or sit more erect. Choice means I have a choice right now, how to be with what is happening. And chew means chew my food until it is almost liquid to get the most nutrition from what I am eating. I use this mantra throughout the day to improve my experience of living. It works for me!

  7. Karisa Bohon says:

    Body balance is a system for retraining your posture, and using it completed eliminated my back pain. Come to think of it, I probably am happier, too! Beth Greenfield at 4th Street Yoga in Berkeley offers a yoga class incorporating Body Balance principals. You can also learn more about it at http://www.sonomabodybalance.com or http://www.balancecenter.com. Another method I believe is substantively similar is the Gokhale method, http://www.gokhalemethod.com.

  8. As an Alexander Technique Teacher, I get a lot of clients who are
    traumatized by their mother’s instructions to, “Stand up straight!”.
    This instruction tends to result in shame + a stiff posture with an
    arched back and tightly pulled back shoulders. Stiffness is too tiring
    to maintain so the person quickly relaxes back into a slump.

    Luckily, there’s a happy medium between stiffness and collapse. This relaxed but
    lengthened posture corresponds to psychological qualities like openness
    and curiosity. It also involves learning how to respond to stress
    without automatic neck, jaw, and shoulder tension.

    To learn more about the Alexander Technique, you can watch this British Medical
    Journal Video: https://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a884 and read the

    To find a teacher in your area, you can visit The American Society for the Alexander Technique’s website: https://www.amsatonline.org/teachers


  9. Jo Ilfeld says:

    Thanks for all the ideas. I too wish I had listened to my parents more. Yoga helps me a lot with my back pain but I’m still working on the posture part. Love the Amy Cuddy talk by the way. I love when you present these awesome little tips of wisdom!

  10. Sammi Law says:

    I certainly agree with the value of good posture. It has
    long been a challenge for me. I slouched through a relatively normal American
    adolescents. In my early twenties I blew out a few discs in my lower back. I
    lost a lot of flexibility and my head wants to drop forward to compensate.

    Now, I am in my early 60’s. I practice stretching and
    moderate balanced exercise. I do my best to remain vigilant of my heads
    posture. I work to keep my chin tucked. I image that I am being pulled upward
    via the fontanel.

    PS: I have moved to Thailand.
    One of the many things that impress me about the people of this country is
    their posture. I suspect it has a lot to do with the lack of furniture. The
    squat is a wonderful stance for stretching and balance.

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