Smiling happens without much thought. When you watch a friend do something silly or embarrassing, you smirk. When a police officer lets you off without a ticket, you grin. And when you are recognized for your top performance in academics or at work, you beam. Smiling is a very natural response that shares our happiness with others.
But did you know that smiling also triggers activity in your brain? Yep, there’s a serious mind-body connection there, in your left frontal cortex to be exact, which is—not surprisingly—the area of your brain that registers happiness.
7 Things to Smile About
1. Smiling can make you happy (even when you’re not).
Remember that mind-body connection we were just talking about? Well, it turns out that the simple act of smiling sends a message to your brain that you’re happy. And when you’re happy, your body pumps out all kinds of feel-good endorphins. This reaction has been studied since the 1980s and has been proven a number of times. In 1984, an article in the journal Science showed that when people mimic different emotional expressions, their bodies produce physiological changes that reflect the emotion, too, such as changes in heart and breathing rate. Another German study found that people felt happy just by holding a small pen clenched in their teeth, imitating a smile.
2. Smiling can make others happy.
“When you’re smilin’, the whole world smiles with you.” Ever heard that song, made famous by Louis Armstrong? Well, it’s true. Research shows that smiling is contagious. Ever been around someone who just had something fantastic happen to him or her? Isn’t it almost impossible not to feel good, too? Studies show that something as simple as seeing a friend smile can activate the muscles in your face to make that same expression, without you even being aware that you are doing it. Crazy, right?
But remember that this, too, can be for better or for worse. You know the expression “misery loves company”? Frowns act just like smiles, just with a negative reaction, so choose to smile and watch the world smile back!
3. Smiling makes you more attractive.
Ever wonder why are we always asked to smile in photos? Because people usually look their best—and happiest—when smiling. According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, 96 percent of American adults believe an attractive smile makes a person more appealing to members of the opposite sex. So the next time you are about to ask someone on a date, smile. It’ll make them feel happier (see No. 2), and you’ll already be more attractive in his or her eyes!
4. Smiling can help you de-stress.
The next time you’re stressed about work or realize that your favorite jeans feel a little snug, don’t freak out. Take a few deep breaths and smile! Smiling may help to reduce symptoms associated with anxiety. When that smile signals to your brain that you’re feeling happy (even though you’re not really feeling happy…yet), your body will usually slow its breathing and heart rate.
Reducing stress is so important for health, too, as it can lower blood pressure, improve digestion and regulate blood sugar. Note that this works during workouts, too! If you’re having a hard time getting through that last rep or getting those final 5 minutes in on the treadmill, smiling can do wonders!
5. Smiling can help you land a job.
If you’re about to go on a job interview, you may think that your appearance is just about wearing nice clothes. Wrong! You can’t just wear that suit; you have to wear it with a smile. In a study published in the December 2009 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, people looked at full-body photographs of 123 people they had never met. The people in the photos had one of two expressions: neutral (think your passport photo) or a smile. And guess what? When observers saw the photos of smiling people, they were more likely to think that the person in the photo was likeable, confident, conscientious and stable. Sound like traits most companies want in an employee, right? So the next time you’re dressing to impress, make sure to take that beautiful, natural smile with you!
6. Smiling can lead to laughter.
Have you ever laughed without smiling? It’s pretty impossible to do. And it’s funny how a smile here and a smile there with friends can turn into a whole fit of hysterical laughter. Numerous studies have been done on the health benefits of laughing, including how it acts like a mini workout that burns calories and works the abs. Laughter also helps blood flow, lowers blood sugar levels, reduces stress and improves sleep. It may also raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body, which helps boost your immune system. So the moral of this story is smile—and laugh—often!
7. Smiling just feels good.
Have you ever found that smiling just feels good? Go ahead, smile now. Doesn’t it feel natural? Make you feel happy to be alive? It sure does beat the heck out of a frown.