5 Reasons to Smile Your Way to a Healthier, Happier Life
In 2011, our CEO Ron Gutman gave a TED Talk on The Hidden Power of Smiling. With over 3.8 million views and subtitles in 49 different languages, Ron’s exploration of smiling and its impact on our health and well-being is as relevant today as it was when he first gave his talk onstage. Here are 5 major health reasons you should smile more:
1. Smiling makes you — and everyone around you — feel good!
Prosthodontist Dr. John Thaler — a specialist in smiles — says smiling projects a positive and friendly attitude, and before you know it, everyone around you starts feeling better. Ron’s talk mentions a study at Uppsala University in Sweden which found that it’s very difficult to frown when looking at someone smiling because smiling is evolutionarily contagious and suppresses the control we usually have on our facial muscles. This positive feedback loop can be seen when you see a baby smiling, and then you smile back (and maybe even start talking in baby talk!). In fact, Charles Darwin wrote about this, calling it the “facial feedback response theory,” which theorizes that the act itself of smiling makes us feel better, rather than smiling because we already feel good.
2. Smiling helps you understand other people, and vice versa
Because of the positive feedback loop, unconsciously mimicking a smile and physically experiencing it helps us understand whether our own smile is fake or real — which helps us understand the original smiler’s emotional state. Smiles also mean the same thing across different cultures. Paul Ekman, the world’s most renowned researcher on facial expressions, conducted studies on the Fore tribe in Papua New Guinea. The Fore tribe was completely disconnected from Western culture, and yet attributed smiles and smiling to the same kinds of situations we would: to express joy, happiness, and satisfaction.
3. Smiling can feel better than chocolate and money
Researchers in Germany used fMRI imaging to measure brain activity before and after injecting Botox to suppress smiling muscles. Their findings supported Darwin’s facial feedback response theory by showing that this facial feedback modifies the brain’s neural processing of emotional content so we feel better when we smile. In the same way that eating chocolate makes us feel good, smiling also stimulates our brain reward mechanism — but chocolate can’t match how good smiling feels! In fact, British researchers found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate or receiving up to £16,000 — or $25,000 — in cash.
4. Smiling lowers stress
Child psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Nehrer notes that smiling helps you think positively and is a positive coping mechanism for negative issues you might be going through. For some people, smiling through stress or anxiety is part of cognitive behavioral therapy, as acting happy can slowly get you out of your negative thoughts and help you see the bright side of the situation. If you’re already happy, smiling can make you more confident about being happy. Specifically, psychiatrist Dr. Alan Ali says this happens: Endorphins, feel-good hormones, are released and the stress hormone cortisol is reduced, which stimulates homeostasis. Instead of staying bottled up, smiling helps release emotions, foster stronger interpersonal relationships, and raise the smiler’s confidence.
5. Smiling helps you live a longer, happier life
Lowered stress levels and increased positivity — both things that happen from smiling — go a long way towards increasing the length and quality of our lives. Clinical psychologist Dr. Bob Stewart references a book called The How of Happiness, which includes the autobiographical sketches of 180 women who entered the Sisters of Notre Dame as nuns. The amount of positive feeling expressed in these narratives predicted each woman’s longevity. 90% of the most cheerful were alive at age 85 versus 34% of the least cheerful. Similarly, 54% of the most cheerful quarter were alive at age 94, as opposed to 11% of the least cheerful. Dr. Glen Elliott, a child psychiatrist, says that there is evidence to suggest that people who are happy do better with certain kinds of illnesses.