By Tom Crawshaw
Guest Writer for Wake Up World
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. But you don’t need me to tell you that smiling feels good. You’ve already experienced the uplifting effects of smiling and laughing with friends and family.
Today, I want to help you understand the science of smiling, because once you discover how smiling works and how to reap the benefits, it’s going to be hard for you not to smile more often!
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 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 your smile. Now you are feeling good from both the original positive stimulus and the feel-good hormones,, so you keep smiling and the loop continues.
Smiling Can Improve Your Mood
This feedback loop means that 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.
Smiling Can Reduce 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.
Smiles Are Contagious
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.”
Smiling Makes You More Approachable
If you were waiting in line at the bar and you could choose between a smiling barman and one with a neutral expression on their face, who would you pick to take your drink order? Most of us would feel drawn to the smiling barman. 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.”
Smiling Makes You Appear More Trustworthy
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.
Smiling Boosts Your Immune System
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. To find out more about the mind-blowing benefits of hugging click here.
Smiling Makes You More Creative
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.
The Power Is In Your Hands
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, make sure to smile. It’s 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.
The best days are the ones when we smile and laugh the most.
About the author:
Tom Crawshaw is the author of the blog Dabs Of Reality. He considers himself to be an adventurer, entrepreneur, philosopher and student of life, blending science and spirituality to help raise the level of consciousness of humanity one person at a time.