This post was inspired by my seven children. It was during movie night, and we were all cramped onto the sofas. The situation is usually uncomfortable, the time is spent crushed so close together that I can barely breathe, with the dog running around trying to get on everyone’s lap. I often count down the minutes for when it’s over and I can sit in comfort once more. However, this time I realised something was different.
We were watching How to Train your Dragon (a kids film I highly recommend), and for once, all the children were laughing along. I found myself looking around at them with a smile on my face. The discomfort was forgotten, and even the dog couldn’t drive me insane. The film was fantastic, yet it no longer held my attention. The children were happy and I found myself emotionally mirroring them. This led me to wonder about the power of a smile and I did some research.
Smiling and laughing have so many more benefits than I realised.
Smiling can lighten our mood because when we smile or laugh, endorphins are released which increases serotonin levels (Hormones associated with happiness), and reduces Cortisol (hormones related to stress). It helps maintain a constant internal balance. The best bit – this smile doesn’t even have to be real. We can fake one and trick our body into creating the same response. I’m not saying that you should walk around with a permanent smile on your face. To be quite honest, if you do that people might think you’re little insane, or dare I say it, weird. Let’s face it, we love to see a smile, but if we come across someone who does it all the time without reason, we tend to be a little cautious, they may even creep us out. But a smile on greeting someone, and in place during a conversation, can only help us.
It has more than an effect on our emotional well-being – it can also boost our immune system. Studies have shown that people who laugh and smile more have a higher white blood count, giving them a better chance of fighting off infection and other illnesses.
Smiling can also help with pain and is a lot healthier for you than tablets. The serotonin released is a natural painkiller with similar affects to morphine based drugs. Think about it. Your child comes in screaming with blood running down their face because they fell off the climbing frame. Your stomach clenches, and your heart rate increases, after all, it’s your baby that’s hurting and that can be terrifying. Not only because of what happened, but you can’t help those thoughts that run riot, the thoughts that like to remind you of how much worse it could have been. You can’t show this, though. If you do, you only scare the child more. So you smile and joke about how they have a scar like their favourite superhero, and quite often, the child will mirror your reaction. I always believed this is because they look to us for how to act, but it is because of the smile. They are contagious, and when the child mirrors it, serotonin is released in their body, and the pain is reduced.
Smiling reduces our stress levels, and it isn’t merely because of the hormones released. Without us realising it, smiling can change the way we think. Keep a smile on your face, and try to think of, and feel something negative. It’s difficult, suggesting that the facial movements have an effect on whether we think positively. Think about it. Every situation has two aspects you can focus on, the bad or the good. Even when it’s impossible to see the silver lining in what has happened, we can laugh at the absurdity of the situation. On the occasions that things are ridiculously bad for me, I have a habit of turning my life into a cartoon strip. It is so much easier to cope with then, more like watching a comedy on television. So if you’re struggling, force a smile onto your face as it can encourage you to find the positive, and let go of what you can’t change, in turn, reducing your stress levels.
Smiling also makes us look younger, which let’s face it, is something that we all want. It lifts the muscles up and helps tighten them, stretching out all those frown lines that age us. This will have a knock on effect to our state of mind. We have most likely all had those days that we look in the mirror and think, ‘I look fabulous today’. When this happens, it makes us feel good, which in turn, helps us smile more, producing more serotonin…and so the cycle continues.
Laughing is a great form of exercise. How many times have you been with friends and laughed so hard, it hurts? It expands our lungs, allowing us to take in more oxygen, and gives our muscles a great workout. This also stimulates our body to achieve balance (homeostasis) with all those crazy hormones that run riot, making us unpredictable.
So far I have focused on how smiling can affect our emotional well-being, but it has other effects, too. Think of an occasion where you have needed to enter a room filled with people you don’t know. You stand in the doorway, your palms sweating, and your head buzzing. You don’t know anyone there, and they all seem to be friends already. How can you approach them? What if you say something stupid? You longingly look towards the exit, wishing that you were still at home, curled up with a cup of tea in front of the TV. You become paralysed, not able to make a move into the room. Does this sound familiar?
It is natural to feel apprehensive about this, maybe even a little paranoid. This can all be brushed aside by smiling when you walk into the room. People are naturally drawn to a smile. It is universally recognised as an open invitation to connect with someone, and automatically makes you seem more approachable. Also, a smile is contagious, and when a person responds, it will make them feel good. They are more likely to converse with you because you have given them an incentive, a small promise that you will give them a positive experience. Because of the smile instead of the cautious, head hanging nerves, you now have a great evening, and are likely make some new friends.
Smiling can also help with your career. Studies have shown that if a person is quick to smile, they are more likely to be promoted. This is likely due to a smile making you more approachable, which helps build a rapport with those around you. Studies have also shown that people believe you to be more intelligent if you smile. Now, we know this isn’t the case, but as many of you know, life is made up with people’s preconceptions, and according to research, this is one of them.
I am the sort of person who always often smiles on the inside. I had heard the saying, ‘A smile a day keeps depression away’, but figured the inside smile was enough. After doing this research, I have decided to make more of an effort to project my positive feelings outwards. Who would have known that the way we move our face could have such an impact on us and those around us.
It can be difficult sometimes, when the last thing you feel like doing is smiling. Your life is hard, and you feel bogged down by it all. If you can’t quite bring yourself to do it in public yet, try the mirror. The first time I practised, I found the situation was absurd, I looked ridiculous, and because of this, I ended up laughing – a step up from smiling. In turn, serotonin was released, and believe it or not, I felt a little better.
So, next time you pass that person in the street, give them a smile, you might be surprised by the impact. In the words of Mother Teresa – We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.