As the classic song goes, “when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.” A beautiful sentiment for sure, but as it turns out, there’s plenty of scientific evidence to back it up. In fact, not only does smiling positively influence those around you—it actually has a profound effect on your own physical and mental health.
Smile and the world smiles back
Our happiest collection reflects this wisdom, and they truly are words to live by. Think about it for a second. You’re travelling home after a really rough day at work. By chance, you happen to make eye contact with a stranger in the subway. She smiles at you, and without realising it, you feel a grin spreading over your face. The act of sharing a smile makes you feel a tiny bit better.
Science tell us this is because smiling is contagious. According to a 2016 study conducted at the University of Wisconsin in the United States, researchers reviewed more than 120 previous studies to determine that when we mirror somebody’s facial expression, we trigger that same emotional state in ourselves. So, when the stranger from the above scenario smiles at you, you instinctively mimic it, which in turn lightens your mood. It’s that easy.
Smiling starts a party in your brain
But what is the connection between smiling and feeling good, exactly? Dr. Ronald E. Riggio, contributor to Psychology Today, says it’s all about brain chemistry. The way he describes it, “each time you smile, you throw a little feel-good party in your brain.” This party starts with the release of something called neuropeptides, which are the molecules that assist neurons in communication. Once these are activated, we start producing hormones like dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. Dopamine is biology’s way of lowering stress, endorphins act as a natural pain reliever and serotonin is nature’s anti-depressant—so it’s no wonder that smiling makes us feel happier!
It’s also good for your body
Smiling doesn’t just make us feel better emotionally—it also affects our physical health. In a 2012 study published in Sage Journals, 170 participants were asked to take part in an experiment where they put chopsticks in their mouths to produce either a Duchenne smile, (that’s one from ear to ear) a standard smile, or a neutral expression while they completed two different stressful tasks. The results revealed that the participants in the smiling groups had a much lower heart rate than those with a neutral expression, with a slight advantage going to those with the Duchenne smiles. The scientists concluded that smiling therefore has the ability to improve cardiovascular health and stress responses. So, alongside eating right and exercising, starting a daily smile routine is also good for your heart.
Fake it ‘til you make it
Perhaps the most surprising and interesting thing regarding the science of smiling is the relationship between cause and effect. You’re happy, so you smile—right? Not necessarily. This fun fact was discovered when a cosmetic dermatologist and a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School worked with 74 patients dealing with major depression. Half of the participants received Botox injections that rendered frowning impossible. After 6 weeks, this group reported much lower instances of depression, compared to only a 15% improvement in the placebo group that received saline injections instead of Botox. This suggests that putting on a happy face—even when you’re not feeling happy on the inside—can actually make you feel better. Why not try this the next time you’re stuck in traffic, for example? Instead of shaking your fist, just grin and bear it: perhaps then you’ll arrive at home happy rather than annoyed.
Next time you find yourself smiling, remember all of the good things it does. For your mind, your body and for those around you, it really is the best natural medicine.
This post is also available in: Spanish