The Science Of Smiling

You’re racing down the street, late for your next
appointment, your hands are full and stumbling with coffee, bag, notebook, cell
phone and keys. Your next step is straight into a puddle, which of course splashes
you. Ugh, not a good start to your day. As you look up, a kind bystander
flashes a sympathetic smile that says, “Hey, it’s okay!” Unconsciously, your
cheeks tighten, eyes squint and you smile right back. That simple act allows
your shoulders to relax, tension in your face softens and a good feeling washes
over you.

We think of smiling as a reaction, a response to something
that makes us happy. However, growing bodies of research suggest that a simple
smile is linked to the cause of feelings of happiness. Meaning, a smile is not
just a response, but a source of happiness and good vibes.

So what is actually happening when you lift the corners of
your mouth? Neuroscientists tell us that “neurons who fire together, wire
together.” Because we spend so much time smiling when we are happy, the parts
of the brain that fire when you smile are connected to the parts of the brain
that fire when you are happy. This link in your brain has occurred so many
times, that there is no distinction between a fake smile and happiness. Fire
one, you fire the other.

When you smile, you release neurotransmitters called dopamine,
endorphins and serotonin, which are responsible for relaxing the body, decreasing
heart rate and lowering blood pressure.  Moreover, a smile releases neuropeptides, which fight stress
hormones. Research shows that people who activate their smile muscles find
cartoons funnier, are quicker to identify happy expressions on other’s faces, and
more easily understand sentences with pleasant messages. (1)  By pulling up the corners of your mouth,
you are setting off a chemical feel-good party in your brain!

But wait, it’s not just a chemical feel-good party for
you!  Everyone around you gets the
opportunity to feel good too!  Just
like chicken-poxes and yawning, smiles are contagious. The part of your brain
responsible for smiling resides in the cingulate cortex, which is an unconscious
automatic response.  One study
showed participants pictures of faces expressing joy, anger, fear and surprise.  Participants were asked to frown when
they saw pictures of smiles.  The
participants naturally smiled in response to pictures of smiles and had to
notice, and make a conscious effort to turn their smile around. (2) This means
that if they don’t make a conscious effort to resist, everyone is inclined to
join you in smiling!

There’s even more good news!  Not only does this feel-good party begin with a smile, it can
make you better looking!  Yes,
smiling makes you more attractive.  A study published in the Journal of Neuropsychological reveals
that seeing a smiling face activates the orbitofrontal cortex, the region in
your brain responsible for sensory rewards. Suggesting that when your eyes catch
a smiling face you feel like you just won. (2)

When you smile you create a chain reaction. You are firing
neurons in your brain to feel-good, be happy, create health and increase your
chances of living longer. When someone sees you, you have now passed along this
gift in two ways—they feel like they just won, and then they smile causing
their own feel-good party in their brain. So don’t hold back, wear your smile
everywhere you go!  The whole world
will thank you!

Test it out for your
self: Put on a smile and notice how you feel.  Then smile directly at 10 people you don’t know, and see
what happens.  You might be
surprised by the results!

1- Nuzzo, Regina. “Can Posture Change Your Mind?” Time Nov. 2013: 28-29. Print

2- Riggio, Ronald. “There’s Magic In Your Smile” Psychology Today, Cutting-Edge Leadership,
25, June 2012. 11 September 2013.


Posted on: September 20th, 2013 No Comments

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