Research strongly suggests that smiling can boost your health in many ways. Here are our top 7
We’ve all been in those stressful situations where the last thing on our minds is what makes us happy or things that make us laugh…
But then something happens. Something that puts a smile on our face or even makes us burst out in laughter. Then, instantly – almost like magic – we feel a little lighter.
Maybe a close friend or loved one says something funny. Or your pet does something so ridiculously silly that you can’t help but laugh.
All of a sudden, the problem you’re facing becomes more manageable. It’s as if the humor of the situation creates some space between you and the issue, allowing you to approach it from a happier and more light-hearted place.
Well, as it turns out, there’s a scientific reason for this.
The simple act of smiling has been shown to improve several aspects of our health, from our productivity at work to something as vital as our immune function.
Keep reading as we explore just how far these benefits go, and how smiling can make a big difference in your overall health.
1. Lower Your Stress, Raise Your Mood
The idea that your facial expressions can impact your mood and emotions isn’t new.
In fact, aside from his theory of natural selection, Charles Darwin was known for his Facial Feedback Response Theory.
This theory proposed that the same way emotions elicit a physical response in us – like a smirk or a full-fledged toothy smile – voluntarily making those same expressions can trigger the corresponding emotions.
In other words, whether you’re feeling happy or not, smiling can lift your mood.
Since then, scientific research on this topic has widely upheld Darwin’s theory.
How the Faces You Make Affect Your Stress Response
A well-known study by the University of Kansas Department of Psychology required 169 participants to perform stressful tasks while covertly manipulating their facial expressions in a few different ways.
To ensure they held the desired expressions, researchers trained the subjects to hold chopsticks in their mouths in three different ways.
One group was made to hold a neutral expression.
Another was trained to hold a standard smile (using just the muscles around the mouth).
And the last was made to hold a Duchenne smile, which is when you use both the muscles around your mouth and your eyes, creating a genuine, happy smile.
It’s funny to imagine, but the chopsticks were crucial to make sure each participant held their assigned expression throughout the experiment.
Researchers then had their subjects perform one of two stressful multitasking activities and measured how their bodies responded both throughout the test and after they finished.
The two main factors the researchers studied were the participants’ self-reported stress levels and heart rates.
Interestingly enough, those made to smile during the test – whether it was a standard of Duchenne smile – had lower heart rates while recovering from the stressful activity than those with neutral faces.
What’s more, Duchenne smilers showed slightly lower heart rates than the standard smilers. And when compared to those with neutral faces, participants with standard smiles reported higher stress levels.
These results suggest that even when we aren’t feeling particularly happy, “grinning and bearing it” can help with both our stress response and our body’s ability to bounce back from stressful situations.
Surprisingly, even fake smiles can set off a cascade of physiological processes in your brain that elevate your mood and reduce stress.
So, the next time you feel stressed, whether you’re on the phone with customer service or held up in traffic, try cracking a smile.
Your body won’t know whether it’s fake or genuine, but it’ll respond like it is!
2. Improve Your Immune Function
Our emotional states and immune function are deeply intertwined with one another.
When we feel anxious and stressed, our overall health and wellbeing often reflect that in certain ways…
But the opposite is also true, and that’s where smiling comes in.
Smiling relieves stress, and research shows that when our bodies are more relaxed, our immune systems can function more effectively.
So, smiling doesn’t just lift your mood. It can improve your health too!
3. Get More Done
As we hinted at in the intro, there’s evidence to suggest that happy people get more done.
One study performed by the Warwick Business School supports this hypothesis, revealing just how big of a role happiness may play in work productivity.
Researchers subjected participants to a series of exercises, showing some of them a ten-minute film containing comedy routines.
After seeing the video, those who reported higher levels of happiness were 12% more productive on the following tasks than unhappy workers or those that didn’t find the comedy routines funny.
The reverse was also shown to be true, with participants who reported lower happiness levels being less productive.
With what we now know about smiling, we can lift our mood – and thereby our productivity – simply by showing a little more teeth!
4. Improve Your Blood Pressure
Smiling, and laughing in particular, can not only relieve stress and leave you feeling uplifted, fulfilled, and relaxed…
But can decrease your heart and respiratory rates, as well as a marked decrease in blood pressure.
Health benefits like this certainly give new meaning to the adage, “Laughter is the best medicine.” And they’re all the more reason to smile!
5. Reduce Pain
As we’ve seen, smiling can impact the way we respond to stress.
But a study for the American Psychological Association explored how this natural expression of happiness can affect pain tolerance.
Two hundred thirty-one participants were split up into four groups, each with their own assigned expression: neutral faces, standard smiles, Duchenne smiles, and grimaces.
They were then subjected to something seen by most as generally stressful (and even terrifying for some): a vaccine-like injection.
Similar to the earlier study, researchers used chopsticks to achieve the desired expressions.
Heart rates and self-reported levels of pain, distress, and emotion were recorded during and after the test to study how each expression influenced the participants’ responses.
Amazingly, the Duchenne smile and grimace groups reported around 40% less pain than those who held neutral expressions.
But what’s even more fascinating is that the Duchenne group was the only one that showed significantly lower heart rates than the neutral group.
These findings suggest that smiling can not only reduce your perception of pain, but can also help your body respond to it more effectively.
You might get some funny looks if you try this at the doctor’s office, but if you struggle with needles, forcing a smile just might be worth it.
6. Sharing is Caring
At some point in your life, you’ve probably heard that smiles are contagious. Well, here’s why…
As humans, we’re wired to mirror the facial expressions of people we see.
It’s our way of identifying exactly what kind of face the other person is making and the emotion that typically corresponds with it. Interestingly, it also helps us determine whether or not the expression they’re making is genuine.
Whenever we see someone smile, our instincts tell us: “That person is happy!” Then, we naturally start to smile, setting off a chain reaction in our brains that leads to all the benefits we’ve talked about today.
So, whenever you smile, there’s a good chance you’ll be sharing your happiness with those around you. And the best part?
7. Live Longer
Perhaps the most exciting benefit on our list today: smiling may actually help you live longer.
A 2009 study performed at Wayne State University found a link between smile intensity and longevity.
Because of the wide range of available statistics on each athlete, researchers chose to study Major League Baseball players for this experiment.
Looking at 230 baseball cards, they filed each card away in one of three categories based on the players’ smile intensity.
Those who weren’t smiling or had a neutral facial expression lived 72.9 years on average, and the big cheesers lived an average of 79.9 years.
Of course, we need more research to firmly establish a connection between smiling and longevity. But generally, science points to happier people leading longer and healthier lives.
Now, could this be because of all the previous benefits we’ve discussed? It’s highly likely.
The body is an incredibly complex and wonderful thing. But one thing’s for sure:
Smiling more certainly can’t hurt!
Build a Smile That Makes You Smile
Smiling works wonders for your health and wellbeing…
But sometimes, our dental health can make us feel self-conscious about showing our teeth.
If something is holding you back from sharing your smile with the world, Dental Express is here to help. As a family dentist, our wide range of services is tailored to people of all ages and stages of dental health.
No matter your situation, we’ll meet you there with understanding, compassion, and affordable solutions. Everyone deserves a smile they can be proud of, and our top priority is to get you back to smiling, both on the inside and out!
Contact one of our San Diego offices online or by phone today to schedule an appointment. Same-day appointments and walk-ins are always welcome!