Can You Smile Your Way to Happiness?

Have you ever been told to “turn that frown upside down?”

It just so happens that doing so is good advice.shutterstock_154095902

Emotions may originate in the brain, but the muscles in the face either reinforce or transform those feelings.  Studies have revealed that through the enhancement of positive emotions – or the suppression of negative ones – with facial expressions, peoples moods begin to align with the emotion their face is communicating.

What kind of smile is the most beneficial?  Apparently, it doesn’t matter.  Smiles are generally divided into two categories. Standard smiles (otherwise known as posed), which use the muscles surrounding the mouth.  While genuine or Duchenne smiles, engage the muscles surrounding both the mouth and eyes (think crow’s feet).  Our brain does not differentiate between real and fake smiles.

Psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman, of the University of Kansas, conducted a study to test the effects of smiling.

During their study, participants were told to hold chopsticks in between their teeth (a pen or pencil will work, too).  The researchers discovered that by holding the chopsticks between the teeth, it forced the study participants’ faces to mimic the same expression as a standard smile and produced the same effect.

Smiling Affects How Your Brain and Body Function

According to researchers, when we smile, even faking or forcing a smile, our stress is reduced and our mood is improved.

Smiling elevates your mood and creates a sense of well-being thanks to the release of the body’s “happy chemicals” serotonin and endorphins.

shutterstock_329221124These chemicals have been found to relax the body and lower heart rate and blood pressure.  As an added benefit, endorphins act as a natural pain reliever and serotonin serves as an anti-depressant and mood lifter.

Lastly, smiling sends a signal to the rest of your body that things are okay and it’s safe to let down your guard.

 Smiling Affects Other’s Perception of You

Smiling doesn’t just benefit you on the inside; it also works to your advantage from the outside.  A study from Penn State University found that people who smile appear to be more likeable, attractive, courteous and even competent.

Additionally, studies have shown that lifting those facial muscles into a smile is also contagious.  If you smile and they smile, everyone in the room becomes a little happier.

So, the next time you’re feeling stressed or gloomy, take a tip from the researchers and grab a pen or a pencil and muster up a smile.

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