The Art and Science of Smiling


You can communicate a lot without speaking a word. The world over, there are some universal gestures that we can all appreciate despite language and cultural differences. One of these is the smile. This seemingly simple movement has the power to break down barriers, bring comfort, and speak volumes. Have you ever thought about how we smile and why our smiles can have such a big emotional impact on others? Scientists and psychologies have been studying how smiling works for a long time. They have given us some interesting insights.

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How Smiling Works

Smiling happens when muscles in the face contract. As a result of this action, the brain is triggered to release happiness hormones or endorphins as a reward. This sequence and the happiness effect are similar to what you might experience if you were eating a delicious bar of chocolate or you had just been handed an unexpected lump sum of cash. Children smile about 20 times as many times as adults, so we should all consider smiling more.

Smiling has also been linked to increasing how attractive and approachable we look to the next person. There is something about a smile that relaxes others and shows that this is a safe space. Smiling can diffuse tension. A smile also draws out the same from others.

Smiling Your Way to Happiness

Smiling has been associated with happiness no matter where in the world you are from. Interestingly, scientists have found that the reverse situation is also true. In essence, you can smile yourself to happiness, or at least try. In a research study by Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman, who are both psychological scientists, it was found that smiling helped their test subjects to go through their tasks with less stress. They had a group of people work on mundane tasks. One group had to do these while smiling, while the other group maintained a neutral expression. The people who were smiling were found to have lower heart rates and lower stress levels than the other group. It was also found that the most positive results were among those who had the widest smiles. This could be a good reason to force yourself to whip on a smile whenever possible and the next time you are doing some chores or even in a moment of stress. The brain associates this with a happier state.

One of the suggestions that have been used to explain what appears to be a connection between smiling and happiness relates to one particular hormone. Cortisol is the hormone associated with stress, so lower cortisol levels naturally mean a reduction in stress. High levels of cortisol are also connected to a number of serious conditions including heart disease, obesity, and mental illness. Smiling is believed to reduce cortisol levels which is a very good thing,

Another effect of smiling is on helping with the balance of neurotransmitters that are in the brains. Neurotransmitters are strong chemicals in the brain that are important for regulating many different aspects of our being. They are involved in the balancing of different functions in the body including physical, cognitive, and mental ones. Neurotransmitters, therefore, affect your sleep, your metabolism, your response to pain, and your emotional wellbeing. So, more smiling can improve your mood and help to calm your nervous system during those intense moments.

There is no doubt about it; smiling is good for your happiness and your health. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, there are good reasons to try, be it momentarily. Smiling is contagious, so keep smiling and let your smile trigger happiness in the next person. That is great science.

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Editor's Picks

Lee has one of the most genuine smiles you have ever seen. His warm smile, and friendly personally give evidence of just how much joy he finds in his research. He has worked on numerous projects, which seek to learn more about terrible illnesses, with the hope of learning how to eradicate them altogether. Lee is also a huge basketball fan and is often found shooting hoops whenever he is not buried in a pile of books in his lab. He also makes time to coach at-risk youths and finds ingenious ways to remind them of the beauty of science even while they play around.


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