The Significance of a Simple Smile

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Guest post by Mary Lamp, BA Exercise Science, Eastern Michigan University dietetics undergraduate

How often do you crack a smile? The average person smiles 20 times a day. Those who are more bubbly than average smile 40 to 50 times a day. Smiling—even if you fake it—can improve your mood and reduce stress. Research from 1990 by Paul Ekman suggests that “adopting a full smile that involves facial muscles around the eyes,” also known as the Duchenne smile, produces a change in brain activity that correlates with a happier mood.

More recent research by Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman found that subjects who expressed the Duchenne smile showed lower heart rates after finishing a stressful task, as compared to those who donned a neutral expression. A portion of the subjects in the forced smiling group (who were instructed to smile) showed less stress compared to those who received no instruction at all. This research, along with Ekman’s, indicates that the more a person smiles the Duchenne smile each day, the larger the decrease in stress.

Research on Botox lends further support to the importance of smiling. Botox injections have been shown to reduce emotional responses because the injections paralyze the small, wrinkle-influence muscles around the eyes—the muscles that are so important to the stress relieving, mood-boosting benefits of the Duchenne smile.

More reasons to smile:

  • Smiling releases endorphins: Endorphins are neurotransmitters that interact with opiate receptors in the brain to bring about feelings of well-being. Therefore, when we smile, we feel happy.
  • Smiling is contagious: The brain is wired for sociability; if one person sees another smile, mirror neurons in that individual’s brain will engage as if he/she were smiling.
  • Smiling strengthens the immune system: Smiling helps in the production of white blood cells. One study showed that hospitalized children who were visited by puppeteers and story-tellers that made them smile and laugh had higher white blood cell counts than the children that did not receive a visit.
  • Smiling provides comfort: Smiling is said to make you feel more comfortable in situations where there is a lack of comfort; smiling allows you to feel more at ease.
  • Smiling is attractive: Smiling communicates that you are empathetic, easy-going, and personable. A study from the European Journal of Social Psychology discovered that smiling makes you more attractive to the people you smile at.
  • Smiling helps to improve your approachability: Studies show that individuals are more willing to engage socially with others who are smiling because a smile suggests to others a willingness to talk and interact.
  • Smiling improves your credibility: Sometimes trusting others is difficult, but smiling can help. A University of Pittsburgh study rated people who smiled as more trustworthy than those who did not smile.
  • Smiling promotes better leadership: If you are in a leadership position, smiling may make you more successful. Research from The University of Montpellier shows that smiling is a more effective leadership technique than having management responsibilities.

Research provides plenty of support that smiling offers a multitude of benefits—especially the eye-crinkling Duchenne smile. Try it more than 20 times a day and see what happens!


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