I was a serious child. So serious, in fact, that in an attempt to tease me, adults would challenge me to maintain my serious face. They would say, “Don’t smile, Victoria.” I took the challenge and stared at them with no hint of a smile. As I grew into adulthood and explored mindfulness and what it meant to be happy, I discovered a positive correlation between smiling and my physical and emotional state. Research followed, and I am happy to share that smiling boosts not only your mood but also your overall health and lifespan. It’s time to take that song from Annie, “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” seriously.
A discussion on the positive effects of the smile requires background information on endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals produced by the body that, when released, interact with the receptors in the brain that diminish the perception of pain and therefore act as a natural sedative. These chemicals are released in response to certain stimuli, especially stress, fear, or pain, and help to block pain and control emotions associated with stress and fear. Specifically, when experiencing stress or anxiety, the body releases cortisol. Cortisol contributes to the unpleasant feelings we experience. Endorphins counteract and diminish this stress hormone to allow us to feel more at ease and relaxed.
At the same time as blocking our reaction to negative stimuli, endorphins are also responsible for feelings of pleasure. Endorphins are responsible for that natural high some feel while performing prolonged continuous exercise like running, swimming, cycling, cross-country skiing, or aerobics, and/or engaging in dangerous activities like car racing, sky diving, and bungee jumping. Because endorphins are produced and released by the body, they are arguably the best (and cheapest) way to achieve a natural high. But you do not have to run a marathon or risk your life to benefit from endorphins. All you have to do is smile.
Endorphins are triggered by the specific movement of the facial muscles needed to form a smile. When you smile, the brain translates that muscle movement into the release of endorphins. This positive translation occurs whether the smile is real or fake, because the brain is simply responding to the muscle movement. Though some studies state a real smile has a more powerful effect, whether the smile is real or fake, you will reap the benefits. The more you smile, the more you stimulate the brain, the more endorphins are released, and as a result, the happier and more relaxed you will feel. And on top of that, studies reveal that those who smile more may live longer. There is no better reason to add smiling into your health and wellness rituals!
- Fake it till you make it. It may be hard to engage in more smiling than you are typically accustomed to. Approach this challenge like a task on your “to do” list. Create a smile schedule that helps to identify times to smile during the day. For example, train yourself to always smile when you purchase your morning coffee or afternoon paper. Choose three daily activities and make those activities your smile time. Smiling is contagious; soon those forced smiles will transform into real smiles.
- Identify what makes you smile. Make a list of the entertainment, people in your life, and beauty in your world that make you smile. Now, add these smile-inducing factors into your life. For example, crowd out the negative programming and news broadcast by amplifying funny movies, television, and theater you love. Once you identify the types of things that make you smile, you can be more aware of bringing them into your life and surrounding yourself with happiness.
- Socialize. Spend time with friends and family whom you enjoy, and who make you laugh. Simply being in the company of those you love can make you smile more in one day than if you were alone.