Smile More! It's Good For You, Really.
We all hopefully let at least one show each day, but many don’t realize the significance of smiling. A universal sign of how we are feeling, smiling has positive societal effects and more surprisingly, biological ones.
Why do we smile?
Although we relate big toothy smiles to happiness, they actually originated in primates as a way to show aggression. However, as the primates evolved, they were able to express more complex emotions. Once meant to intimidate others, showing ones teeth slowly turned into submission. It became a way to tell others to back off, that they were harmless. Eventually, smiling became a clear indicator of non-hostility, turning it into the smile we know and use today.
In addition to societal cues, personality and genes play a role in how often you smile. In the 1990’s studies found a new gene that was linked to serotonin and the brain. As this gene is copied to us from our parents, two variations can occur, a long and a short allele. (Alleles are different forms of a gene that usually arise through some sort of mutation). Researchers found that those with the short allele variation were much more likely to have depressive disorders, experience more negative emotions, and suffer from PTSD.
What happens when we do?
From biological to societal, there are a surprisingly large range of benefits that have been shown to come from smiling.
Lowers Stress and Anxiety
Smiling during stressful situations isn’t exactly common. However, there are now studies that show maybe it should be. Researchers found those who smiled while experiencing stress had lower heart rates and were able to calm down more quickly than those with neutral facial expressions.
Makes You More Attractive
Forget the expensive makeup and hair products, just try smiling! Studies have shown those who smile appear more attractive to those around them. It appears people who smile express more sincerity, sociability, and competence than those who don't show off their pearly whites.
Boosts the Immune System
Who knew smiling had positive effects on your insides as well! It turns out that studies show smiling increases your body’s production of white blood cells. These in turn boost your immune system, helping you fight off illness much more easily. One study showed that children in the hospital who were visited by storytellers who made them laugh had a much higher white blood cell count than those who weren’t.
Makes You More Trustworthy
Studies show people tend to trust people who smile more than those who don’t. This can cause people who smile to be thought of as better leaders. Another study showed smiling was a better leadership technique than having heavy management responsibilities.
Endorphins, the happy chemicals. In addition to helping lower stress levels, endorphins can improve your mood and help reduce pain. The most common way to release endorphins is through exercise, known as a “runner’s high”. When you smile you can get that same feeling, without the running! (Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting switching your gym trips out for smiling sessions; exercise is still recommended!)
It can be hard to get in the habit of smiling if you don’t do it often. Here are a few ways to start adding smiles to your daily routine!
Smile when you wake up
Starting the day off with a big toothy grin may be just what you need on those gloomy Monday mornings!
Smile at people around you
This helps boost your mood and the ones of those around you!
Notice the little things
Maybe your favorite flowers are in bloom or there were some cute squirrels playing outside your place. Acknowledging the little things in life can help bring about smiles all day long.
Think about what is, not what isn’t
Try shifting your perspective from "I don’t have enough money for x, y, z” or “if only I had…” to instead thinking “wow, I have a great life” and “I am so lucky to have…” There are probably more things to be grateful for than you may realize.