Want to create joy and reduce stress? Simply smile.

A few months ago I was walking down the hallway at work and passed two co-workers. We smiled and exchanged pleasantries. As they passed me, I heard one remark to the other, “she always seems to have a smile on her face.” Hearing that made me smile even wider.

It’s true, I try to smile as much as possible. It’s a habit I’ve been forming since my days in college when I was lucky enough to have Dr. Paul Pearsall as a professor. He would often talk about the benefits of smiling and how if we wanted to quickly change the way we felt, all we needed to do was smile. Pearsall contends that smiling provides an “oxygen shower” that allows for increased blood flow to the brain. In fact, in his book Super Joy Pearsall suggests this simple test:

  1. Smile as hard as you can right now. 
  2. Just force a long hard smile until you reach the end of this sentence.
  3. Pay attention to how you’re feeling.
  4. Did you happen to notice a warming of your face and head?

 Pearsall explains that during the process of this “oxygen shower… you may feel just a little more joyful even though you didn’t do anything more than ‘act’ joyful.” See what you’ve done? You’ve just made yourself a little happier. Now, can you imagine what you would feel like if you were addicted to smiling?

 A recent study entitled “Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Positive Facial Expression on the Stress Response” reinforces the claims made by Professor Pearsall. Nearly 170 participants of study had their smiles manipulated by chopsticks into either:

  • A standard smile – only muscles around the mouth are affected
  • A genuine smile – muscles around the mouth and eyes are affected
  • A neutral expression – no muscle movement

 All participants were then asked to participate in stressful, multitasking activities, but some were instructed to smile in addition to the smiles forced by the chopsticks. All the while, heart rates and stress levels were monitored.

 Those who bore genuine smiles were the most relaxed of all. Those who exhibited a standard smile had a lower heart rate than those who did not smile at all and those whose smiles were forced by the chopsticks reported feeling better than those who did not smile.

Other reasons to smile include:

  • Smiling makes us more attractive
  • Smiling is contagious
  • Smiling boosts your immune system
  • Smiling lowers your blood pressure
  • Smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers and serotonin
  • Smiling lifts the face and makes you look younger
  • Smiling makes you seem successful

 Anyone up for a challenge? Try smiling as much as possible for a week or even a day. Smile even when doing mundane things like loading the dishwasher, folding laundry or during your commute to work. Let me know what you think, what the results are of your informal study – they’re sure to put a smile on my face.

Photo credit: nubui

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