A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. – William Arthur Ward
Did you know that you can instantly change your state of mind just by smiling? Science has now shown that when we flex our facial muscles to produce a smile, our brain releases a cocktail of feel-good hormones that elevate our mood and reduce stress. You’ve already experienced the uplifting effects of smiling and laughing with friends and family–it’s an instant, infectious, free and joyful action. Once you discover the science of how smiling improves your mood and how to reap the benefits you’ll be smiling all the time!
What Happens in Our Brains when We Smile?
Smiling is an inherently human trait. It’s kind of weird when you think about it. We flex the muscles in our face in response to a positive stimulus, and suddenly, not only do we feel good, but it also makes those around us feel good!
On a simplistic level, when you see an old friend or reunite with your family after time away, a positive emotional response is triggered based on the memories and connection you have with them. So involuntarily you smile at them. The neuronal signals travel from the cortex of your brain to the brainstem. From there, the cranial muscle carries the signal further towards the smiling muscles in your face.
This creates a positive feedback loop. Your brain releases a plethora of pleasure hormones, like dopamine and serotonin, in response to you smiling. You feel a sense of joy from the original positive stimulus and the pleasure hormones, so you keep smiling and the loop continues. This feedback loop means we not only can communicate our mood through our facial expressions, but we also can influence our mood, consciously, by choosing to smile, even when faced with a negative stimulus. When you laugh at yourself when things go wrong, it’s easier to avoid getting overwhelmed with self-doubt and frustration.
Smile, it’s free therapy. – Douglas Horton
Smiles to Counter Stress
In a 2012 study, published in the journal Psychological Science, University of Kansas psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman studied 170 participants who were instructed to hold chopsticks in their mouths in three different formations, making them smile to various degrees without realizing it, while performing a stressful task. The experiment revealed that subjects whose facial muscles were forced into the biggest smiles, due to the chopsticks, experienced a substantial reduction in heart rate along with quicker stress recovery, compared to those whose expressions remained neutral, even though the participants didn’t realize that they were smiling, and there was no positive stimulus present.
Have you ever smiled at someone and not received a smile back? It may have happened a handful of times, but it’s usually the exception, not the rule. Most people can’t help smiling back at you, even if it’s just to be polite. Smiling is contagious thanks to the incredible structures in our brain called mirror neurons.
“The way mirror neurons likely let us understand others is by providing some kind of inner imitation of the actions of other people, which in turn leads us to ‘simulate’ the intentions and emotions associated with those actions,” Iacoboni told Scientific American. “When I see you smiling, my mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, initiating a cascade of neural activity that evokes the feeling we typically associate with a smile.”
Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful. – Thich Nhat Hanh
Smiles for Connection
If you were waiting in line for a coffee and you could choose between a smiling server and one with a neutral expression on their face, who would you pick to take your order? Most of us would feel drawn to the smiling server. We instinctively perceive a smile as genuine, friendly, warm, and welcoming.
There was an interesting study published in 2005 designed to test whether the authenticity of employee expressions influenced the impressions formed of the employee’s friendliness and the overall customer satisfaction with the encounter. After reviewing 255 customer interactions with 64 restaurant servers, “the study showed that perceived display authenticity enhanced the perceived friendliness of the employee and had a direct effect on customer satisfaction.”
A smile is the universal welcome. – Max Eastman
This one seems pretty logical, right? It makes sense, at least to me, that compared to someone who is displaying a neutral or frowning expression, a smiling person is going to seem more trustworthy. At the University of Pittsburgh, researchers explored the potential connection between a model’s level of attractiveness, the intensity of her smile and her perceived level of trustworthiness. Participants ranked 45 models on these three conditions, revealing that the models who were ranked as the most trustworthy had the biggest smiles.
When you smile you are literally changing your state of mind. A whole host of feel-good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin get released into the brain that can actually make you more creative. Recall a time when you were stressed or angry but you needed to find a solution to a problem. Chances are you found it pretty difficult. That’s because stress hormones actually reduce your brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of your brain that’s responsible for logic, reasoning and creative thinking.
Smiling activates the parasympathetic nervous system through stimulation of the vagus nerve. This helps you switch from your fight-or-flight survival mode to the relaxed-recovery mode, reducing your blood pressure and boosting your immune system. It is the same system that gets triggered when you hug someone.
The source of a true smile is an awakened mind. – Thich Nhat Hanh
The real message of this article is that you have the power to change your state of mind and influence how others perceive you in your day-to-day life. My sincere intention is to give you a deeper understanding of the mind-body connection, and access to simple tools to make a positive change in your life. Whenever you find yourself in a stressful situation, be sure to smile. It won’t instantly change your situation, but it absolutely will change how you feel about it, putting you in a better position to devise a creative solution.
Nothing you wear is more important than your smile. – Connie Stevens
The best days are the ones when we smile and laugh the most.
We’ve had a lot of fun at Team Uplift trying this out. Smiling (even fake smiling) seems to make a difference. Have a little experiment with your big smiles and let us know how you went in the comments below.