Make Smiling Your Super Power

Mar 14, 2016 by Reen Rose

Smiling not only makes you look better, it also makes you feel better.

When your brain experiences a positive situation, it sends a message to your brainstem which in turn instructs the relevant muscles in your face to contract. You are now smiling.

This however, is only half the happiness story. When the muscles in your face contract they send a signal back to the brain which reinforces your feeling of joy.

This double whammy means that when your brain feels good it tells you to smile and when you smile, a message goes back to your brain that tells it to feel even better. One British research scientist declared that “smiling can be as stimulating as receiving up to 16,000 pounds sterling in cash.” That’s between $30,000 and $43,000, depending on which side of the 49th parallel you live.

I have always told my children to smile when they find themselves in an uncomfortable or new situation. Was I giving good advice? Does a forced smile still send a message to the brain telling it to feel good?

Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman were interested in just that, so they conducted a smile study using chopsticks. Participants put chopsticks into their mouths to produce one of three different expressions: neutral, standard smile or big (Duchenne) smile. They then asked half of the partakers to smile; the other half weren’t given any instructions about facial expression. Each person involved was then given stressful tasks to do while their hearts were monitored.

The results showed that those who were instructed to smile, regardless of what facial expression the chopsticks gave them, had lower heart rate levels and recovered from the stress more quickly. Those with the Duchenne or big smiles had a slight advantage over less intense smiles.

Those who weren’t instructed to smile, but who had forced smiles from the chopsticks felt more confident and less stressed than those non-smiling subjects with neutral expressions.

It seems that smiling, regardless of whether it is genuine or not, tricks your brain into thinking you are happy.

Another piece of good news is that you can get better at smiling.

Practice smiling in front of a mirror. Try to make your smile reach your eyes not just your mouth; visualize who you are talking to or try to remember a happy experience.

The more you practice smiling, the more comfortable you will feel doing it. Visualize yourself that you are engaged in a conversation with someone your like or even love, or imagine a situation, or event that made you feel really happy, or satisfied.

Some cultures encourage smiling more than others, which gives some people an advantage right from the start.

So turn that frown upside down. Next time you are under stress; give your body a break and take the time to smile for a few minutes. Your brain and your body will thank you for it.