Smiling Can Make Us Happier
by Julie Peterson
A smile makes the brain happy. As it turns out, it doesn’t matter if we smile at first because we’re genuinely happy or if we simply fake a smile. The brain doesn’t know the difference.
When we are happy, we naturally smile. But research has shown that the act of smiling can also induce happiness. It happens because the muscles required to lift the mouth into the shape of a smile are connected to nerves that send signals to the brain. Once the brain gets the message that a smile is happening, it releases dopamine, endorphins and serotonin throughout the body. These feel-good chemicals make us feel less stressed, less pain and happier, which can effortlessly transform a fake smile into a genuine one.
Platitudes through the ages have urged us to “Turn that frown upside down” and “Put on a happy face.” In 1872, Charles Darwin hypothesized that facial feedback could alter emotions and, ever since, the topic of smiling and mood has been a subject of discussion and research. Whether or not forced smiles can have a strong enough impact on our state of mind to effectively boost overall mental health is still being debated, with some research indicating that “false” smiles can lower mood if used continuously to avoid expressing certain feelings; however, there are several more positive aspects of smiling to take into consideration.
Smiling is contagious. Seeing other people smile stimulates our mirror neurons, which discharge; they discharge similarly whether we’re doing an action or observing someone else do it. So, being around smiling people, seeing them smile, affects our brains as if we were doing the smiling.
Smiling also provides the health benefits of reduced anxiety and lowers both blood pressure and heart rate. Over the long haul, these attributes add up to improved cardiovascular health and a measurable reduction in risk for stroke.
Get more smile time by working these muscles at every opportunity. Fake it if you must until it comes naturally, watch funny shows, spend time with cheery people and when things are looking down, grin and bear it. You might just feel better right away, and better long-term health is certainly something to smile about.
Julie Peterson is a Random Acts of Kindness activist (RAKtivist.com) and an advisor for Kindness Bank, a nonprofit invested in improving community health and well-being.