If a smile can light up a room, what else can it do? Studies say a smile can change a bad mood into a good mood just like that. One study even claims we have the power to regulate our emotional experience simply by smiling.
There’s a lot of psychology around what a smile is and what effects it has on those doing the smiling, and those observing the body language.
In this article, we’re going to look briefly into the psychology of smiling, when and how to smile more, and how smiling can improve not only your life but those around you.
A Brief History of the Smile
Old photographs and portraits give humans a very serious and unpleasant tone in appearance. Very rarely would you see portraits of humans with a radiant, beaming smile. This doesn’t mean early humans didn’t smile.
In fact, smiling predates human art and photographs.
Primatologists trace smiling back over 30 million years of evolution to a “fear grin”. Early monkeys and apes would show their clenched teeth to predators to show they were harmless or possibly more dominant.
Different Types of Smiling
Scientists from the University of Madison-Wisconsin classify smiles into 3 different categories – reward smiling, affiliate smiling, and dominant smiling.
Reward smiling occurs when we’re feeling good about something. It says, I like you and I like what you’re doing. The feeling behind it is positive.
Affiliate smiling is a way of showing tolerance and acceptance. It doesn’t necessarily say, “I like you”, but more, “You’re ok. I’m ok with you.”
Dominance smiling is used to display social status and gives off a feeling of superiority or pride. This can be seen when athletes score on an opponent and stand in front of them grinning with an air of dominance.
The Duchenne Smile
A smile often begins with the human senses. We see with our eyes an old friend, or we hear something that we think is funny. Even imagining something can trigger muscles in our face to create a smile.
Scientists believe that a truly genuine smile occurs when the muscles, peculiar tango of the zygomatic major, and the orbicularis oculi are engaged.
The zygomatic major is a muscle that resides in the cheeks and when engaged it tugs the lips upward. The orbicularis oculi is a muscle that encircles the eye socket, and when used, squeezes the outside corners of the eye into the shape of a crow’s foot.
They call this the “Duchenne smile”.
Named after french anatomist Guillaume Duchenne, who wrote that the zygomatic major can be willed into action, but that only the “sweet emotions of the soul” force the orbicularis oculi to contract.
The eyes, they say it all.
Of all the reasons to smile, smile because it feels good! It feels good because when we smile our brain release neuropeptides which help fight off stress.
Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate. When you smile, other feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins are released as well.
Dopamine is an important chemical messenger involved in reward, motivation, and memory. Serotonin serves as an anti-depressant or mood lifter, and endorphins act as a natural pain reliever.
So with this neurotransmitter cocktail going on in your brain when you smile, it’s no wonder it feels so good!
How To Smile When Sad
Sometimes we’re having a bad day, and we just want to feel better. Although most scientists believe you can’t smile your way to happiness, you can sure try.
Next time you’re feeling upset or sad, and want to feel happy, take a moment and stir up a memory of the last time you had good laugh. The brain will connect your past memory of laughter with your current state, and trigger a smile.
A study that combined data from 138 studies testing more than 11,000 participants from all around the world found that facial expressions do indeed have an impact on feelings.
Even if you arent feeling happy, you can trick your brain into thinking it’s happy by either involuntarily or voluntarily smiling.
How To Smile More Often
If you’re just one of those people that doesn’t smile often but wants to, there’s hope. You may have to fake it at first.
However, the more you practice and strengthen your muscle memory, the easier and more enjoyable smiling will become.
Here are some suggestions to help you become a radiant smiler:
- Smile the first thing you do when you wake up
- Smile every time you see someone else smile
- Smile whenever you make eye contact with someone else
- Smile every time you look in the mirror
- Think happy thoughts, and smile
- Try and make a child laugh
- Smile count goal- 20 smiles every day
Just remember, smiling doesn’t guarantee acceptance from others, or that you will receive a smile in return. Your reason for smiling should be to make yourself feel good.
If you feel good, others will sense that and more than likely reflect that mood.
How Smiling Affects Others
You’ve heard it before, smiling is contagious. If you smile at someone as you walk by them, more than likely they will automatically and without thought smile back.
You’re indirectly causing feel-good emotions in them whether they know it or not.
Not only are you indirectly affecting people’s moods by smiling at them, smiling at another person is an invitation to connect. To share a moment in time together, acknowledging each other.
Smiling For Success
Whether you’re a student in college studying for an exam or a professional getting your SAFe certification for architects to advance your career, smiling more will help you be more productive
Why is that?
We’ve already learned that smiling helps release feel-good chemicals in the brain that relieve stress. If you’re stressed out, you’re less productive.
So if you’re studying for an exam or preparing a presentation, try smiling during your breaks to help relieve any stress.
Because I’m Happy
A healthy person is more likely to be happy. If you’re happy you’re most likely smiling, and if you’re smiling more often you’re more likely to be healthy. It’s a full circle.
Don’t spend any more time reading about how to smile more and how smiling is good for you. Go out into the world and show us your best Duchenne smile possible!
Be an even bigger game-changer with your health and read some of my posts about health and fitness.