Health Benefits of Smiling

Shandra Martinez

| 3 min read

portrait Asian Chinese down syndrome young man looking at camera smiling in living room
Happy. Warm. Approachable. Friendly. Nice. Kind. When we smile, we’re conveying these attributes and more about ourselves to others. Our lips curve into a smile when we are with someone we care about, or when we want to welcome a new acquaintance. Smiles can have many meanings, but there is no disputing the health benefits of smiling. Research shows smiling is good for us in many different ways – including a couple that might surprise you.

Health benefits

Whether they are mimicking a delighted parent or happy just hanging onto their own bare feet, children learn to smile very early in life. It’s a skill they flash often in their early years. Studies have shown that children smile hundreds of times a day on average, compared to about 50 times a day for a self-described happy adult. No matter the age, smiling is a good thing for our bodies and brains, according to medical staff at Henry Ford Health. Some measurable body benefits include:
  • A better-functioning immune system
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Less frequent feelings of pain
  • Lower stress levels
  • Better endurance during exercise
  • Possibility for a longer life

The science behind smiling

So why are we getting all these health benefits from using our face muscles this way? It’s because a smile is more than just skin deep. Psychology Today laid out the behind-the-scenes workings this way: When people smile, it triggers tiny neuropeptides – little molecules that help communicate moods to the brain and the rest of the body. Smiling releases endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, which are like feel-good chemicals that can make people feel less stressed. What follows? A lower heart rate and a drop in blood pressure.

Trick your brain

What if you don’t feel like smiling? Some people outgrow their childhood propensity to smile frequently and find they don’t smile all that much on an average day. But this doesn’t mean you can’t force your brain and body to release more serotonin and endorphins. You just have to trick your body into it by faking some smiles. We’ve all been in situations where we smile just to be polite. When we smile even though we don’t feel happy, our bodies don’t really know the difference, according to an article in NBC News.
What happens when we fake a smile:
  • The brain believes we’re happy, which can then create real feelings of happiness.
  • Our body gets an immune system boost from these feelings.
  • Smiling – even fake smiling – is contagious. The body’s mirror neurons make people want to smile back at others.
  • Smiling makes people feel more empathetic toward others.
So, the next time you need a mood booster, fake a smile. Even if you’re alone, you can still smile in front of a mirror or just while sitting in your favorite chair. Your brain won’t know the difference and will send a little happiness your way.
Photo credit: Getty Images

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