What is this magic tool that can make you feel better? And look better too. Simple, a smile. Really? Absolutely, and here’s why:
Effects on you
A smile causes a mini-happiness party in your brain, releasing a variety of chemicals which:
- reduce stress (neuropeptides)
- relax you and help reduce blood pressure and heart rate (dopamine)
- help with pain relief (endorphins) – you can actually stand pain more easily if you smile.
- lift your mood (seratonin)
And no side effects.
I’m not suggesting that everyone with serious problems or depression can just smile their way out of them, but if you stop and smile when you’re having a bad day, you will feel better – just try it. The brain’s natural tendency is to protect you, to look for threats, real or imagined (mostly imagined). It doesn’t look on the bright side, it imagines all the worst things that can happen. This is very useful when you’re surrounded by danger, like sabre-toothed tigers and enemy tribes. But it’s a bit of a downer on a rainy Monday morning when you’re trying to be cheerful, productive or creative. Smiling breaks your brain’s natural habit of negative thinking and can actually train it to make more positive patterns.
The dopamine released when you smile is also involved in learning, processing and decision-making. This means that when you feel happy, you’re more creative and better at solving problems. Which probably makes you feel even better.
Effects on others
A study from Penn State University found that people who smile are seen as more attractive, reliable, relaxed, and sincere, as well as more courteous and competent. Other studies show similar results. Yep, all that from one smile.
Smiles are contagious too. People literally can’t help smiling back at you. A Swedish study found that it is very hard to frown at a picture of someone smiling. So if you’re smiling at someone and they don’t smile back, they’re probably making a conscious effort not to. Give them a wide berth, they’re having a bad day and need to smile more. Or they don’t like you.
And, amazingly, you still get a lot of the smile benefits from a fake smile – it doesn’t have to be real. I wouldn’t recommend this with others – most people are pretty good at spotting fake smiles – but we still feel some of the beneficial effects ourselves. Grin and bear it really does work.
So even if you’re having a rotten day, turn that frown upside down and make everyone feel better, especially you.
For more help with smiling more and frowning less, check out: