Each of us has personally experienced the power of a smile. Someone smiles at something you say… you walk into a room and people smile… you’re feeling depressed - then someone says something that makes you smile and you feel better. A simple smile can change your day.
Why does the power of a smile affect us so much?
Would you agree that the vast majority of us, if asked, would say we believe that smiling is the RESULT of feeling good? We feel happy, so we smile. Right? Not so fast.
Psychologists at the University of Kansas, published in Psychological Science, found that often smiling can REDUCE STRESS. We feel better when we smile. So the conscious decision to smile, even in the face of stress or trouble, can actually help us feel better. In other words, feeling good can be the RESULT of smiling.
Put on a happy face!
That old axiom “Just put on a happy face” turns out to be legitimately good advice! You can smile your way into a better place.
The researchers found that for participants in the study, when presented with stressful situations and asked to smile, heart rates lowered and perceived stress levels reduced. While no one yet knows for sure why this phenomenon happens, it’s suspected that smiling reduces the level of cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone, as well as increases serotonin and dopamine levels.
What is even more interesting is that the intensity of the smile makes a difference. While simply forming a smile with the mouth (a forced smile) does reduce heart rate, intensifying the smile to include the eyes (“smiling with your eyes” – technically called a Duchenne smile) increases the positive effect. Try it the next time you’re feeling stressed. It works!
And there’s more.
University of Oxford researchers, in collaboration with American and European researchers, found that intense smiling and laughter enabled a greater ability to withstand pain. Really! And laughing along with others together was more powerful in pain control than doing it alone.
In 2019, Eliud Kipchoge set a new world record for the marathon. Those who witnessed the race were amazed to see him, during the most stressful and demanding moments of the race, smiling, helping him relax and maintain positive energy in the face of the intense pain and stress. Smile when the going gets tough or you feel pain. Try it. It works! When we choose to form a facial expression of smiling, we are likely to change our emotional state to feel happier. Amazing!
Smiling is also contagious.
It’s not just the personal anecdotal evidence of recognizing that most of the time you enthusiastically smile at someone, they smile back. Scientific studies have shown the same phenomenon. We are hard-wired to react positively to other people who smile. “Smile and the world smiles with you” is actually proven science.
So is it time for you to re-think how you relate to others? Smile to feel better, reduce stress, get healthier, influence how others feel about you and help build a friendlier, happier world. Try it!
- Here’s my favorite TED Talk about the power of a smile. Smile while you watch it and enjoy it even more!