Everyone loves to smile. Or, at least, everyone should! Whether it’s a young child scoffing sweets, or an elderly relative remembering the golden oldies, everybody does it. However, smiling isn’t just a expression of joy – it’s also a cognitive reflex to positive aspects of life that release endorphins, dopamine and serotonin – making you feel physically better! Happiness makes you smile, and smiling makes you happier – it’s a positive feedback loop that just keeps on giving! Take a look at what smiling really means to you and those around you:
Studies show that people smile less as they grow older, with children smiling on average 400 times a day, compared to a regular adult’s 20 times. But even then, some of those smiles are not what we’d call genuine, or “Duchenne” smiles – named after the first neurologist to study the differences between smiles, Guillaume Duchenne. A Duchenne smile is the most joyful reaction of them all, involving the whole face. It starts with the crinkles in the eyes (laughter lines) and slowly spreads across the face revealing a beaming set of teeth – even babies have been known to smile in the womb! However, up to 80% of people are able to mimic a natural smile – but this is often forced, known as a “false social smile,” a “botox smile” or a “Pan-Am” smile – named after the flight attendants that always flash the same superficial grin.
Other smiles include the closed smile and the tight-lipped smile, both forced affairs that indicate the wearer is contented, but hiding something. Politicians and celebrities often use it when being snapped in photos. The drop jaw smile is more exaggerated, used by people to convey playfulness or induce laughter in an attempt to “win people over”. The turn away smile is often used to come across as playful, juvenile or flirty, and is often used by actresses or female pop stars. The gesture is two-fold, welcoming someone in, but turning away to indicate avoidance, or vulnerability. The sneer is a clear sign of sarcasm or contempt, and has been made famous by the likes of Ann Robinson and Simon Cowell.
The Health Bnefits of Smiling
You’ll live longer. Those who smile more genuinely live a whopping 7 years longer on average than those who don’t! A study at Michigan University of 230 baseball players showed that those who smiled widest and most genuinely on their baseball cards lived 79.9 years on average, compared to those who didn’t smile, only living an average of 72.9. That’s a whopping 7 year difference!
Helps to reduce pain. People with bigger, genuine smiles display a higher pain tolerance than those who regularly frown. A study in 2008 suggested that those who smiled when heat was applied to their arms displayed a higher pain tolerance than those who frowned, or maintained a neutral expression.
You’ll be more successful. People who naturally express more genuine smiles have been known to lead happier, more successful lives – both domestically and professionally. A study at the University of California of 111 women showed that the 52% who naturally expressed genuine, Duchenne smiles in photographs were more likely to be contented and successful in life. A genuine smile also increases your chances of finding love as 58% of men and 71% of women said a smile is the most desirable feature in their ideal partner.
You’ll be happier. Smiling releases neuropeptides, helping to fight depression and stress. Smiling activates the release of neuropeptides, including dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. These work towards fighting off the negative effects of stress and depression, relaxing your body and lowering your blood pressure.
Your immune system will be stronger. Smiling has proven to improve your immune system by increasing your body’s production of HGH, the growth hormone most responsible for a strong immune system response, by 87%. This results in lower stress and inflammatory reaction, an increase in “good” cholesterol levels, ultimately reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
It will reduce physical causes of stress. Smiling has been shown to reduce the main stress hormones, including cortisol, epinephrine and dopac.
Smiling protects against cancer. Keeping a regular grin on your face naturally enhances the effect of immune cells and antibodies which are important in cancer defense.
Even forced smiles reduce stress! People who sported fake smiles have been shown to enjoy reduced stress levels, more positive emotions and less pain – even more so than fake smiles! A University of Kansas study showed that smiles induced with chopsticks (ouch!) reduced stress, negative emotions, and pain – but the real Duchenne smiles reduced these even more!
So, now that you know the physical and mental health benefits of smiling, what are you waiting for? More people smiling will make the world a far better place, and remember: “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” Thích Nhất Hạnh