Lifestyle Solutions for a Happy Healthy You!

The Health Benefits of Smiling

“Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that  person, a beautiful thing.” ~ Mother Teresa

It’s so easy in our everyday lives to become consumed by all the things we  have to do, as well as the financial pressures we must endure when money is  tight. Feeling down and negative about it all, from time to time strikes all of  us, but even when you feel your own stress building up inside you, did you know  that perhaps the very best thing you can do is put on a happy face? Yes, even if  it means you have to force a phoney smile.

“Peace begins with a smile.” ~ Mother Teresa

It has been said that a photograph or the happy face of a wholesome model or  actor, looking right into the camera induces people to buy products–so we know  advertisers know the power of a smile! We all inherently know the power of a  smile too! We feel good whilst smiling and we feel good when we are smiled  at.

Recently however, studies have shown that the simple, natural act of smiling  actually helps our health by lowering our heart rate and relieving our stress  levels.

An interesting study from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, required  participants to hold a variety of facial expressions while enduring  stress-provoking situations. The researchers recruited 169 college-age  volunteers, of whom half were men and half were women. They were provided with  chopsticks and taught to hold them in their mouths while making certain facial  expressions. They produced a neutral look, a smile that only involved the mouth,  and a Duchenne smile, which is  more of a true smile that requires activity in muscles of both the mouth and the  eyes. To half of the subjects, the suggestion was made that the Duchnenne smile  was to be made like a smile. The other half was simply directed on the muscular  action needed.

The entire group of participants were told they would be multi-tasking while  holding the chopsticks in their mouths and keeping a particular expression on  their faces. The tasks they needed to perform were designed to be difficult and  therefore heighten their stress levels. For instance, the volunteers were made  to trace a star shape using their non-dominant hand working off a mirror  reflection or plunging a hand into ice water (not something we usually would  want to smile about).

The researchers monitored the heart rates of the subjects both during and  after the tasks. The smilers had lower heart rates than those wearing neutral  expressions. The greatest difference was found in those who executed a Duchenne  smile that is most similar to a true smile. However, even the participants who  formed a smile with their mouths only had lower heart rates than those keeping a  neutral face, suggesting that any sort of grin–even a completely fake smile–can  be beneficial.

Researchers know today that we produce greater quantities of both adrenaline  and cortisol when undergoing stress. This “fight or flight” response increases  the heart rate and affects blood flow to ensure the vital organs of the core of  the body are receiving their fair share at the expense of the extremities.  Therefore, having a lower heart rate means we are not feeling or reacting to the  stress nearly as much.

According to the results of this study, smiling would appear to have some  sort of calming effect. In fact, blood pressure rates were also noted to be  lower in many of the smiling volunteers, but not all. Since the same hormones in  the body that affect heart rate also increase blood pressure, it’s interesting  that those results were not as consistent. The difference could possibly be due  to high blood pressure being a long-term condition that develops over time. High  blood pressure is affected by overeating and other poor health habits, whereas a  quickened heart rate is generally short term. Then again, in some people the  higher blood pressure could have been the result of hardened arteries, which  would not have changed no matter how much one smiled.

Earlier research about smiling has produced mixed results. A 2011 study at  Michigan State University in East Lansing found that people who had to be polite  all day at work and produce fake smiles ended up with overall worse moods than  others. Yet, when those same subjects were told to conjure their smiles based on  happy thoughts, both their moods and their productivity levels increased.

When we smile, we release a chemical message deep within our brain known as  an endorphin. Once released these endorphins travel down our spine sending feel  good messages throughout the rest of our body. Endorphins are strong enough  to reduce symptoms of physical, or emotional pain, as they envelop us in a  nice warm feeling of well being. They are a chemical of approximately the same  strength as another pharmaceutical chemical that we all know of called  Morphine.

Endorphins have that wonderful ability to make us feel happy, and whenever we  all smile, we release them. So even if you are not happy when you begin to  smile, you will be afterwards, and the more often that you smile then the  happier you will feel!

I think, since it costs us nothing to smile, then why not smile as often as  possible? If the first thing we would do when faced with stressful people or  situations was smile, we might unnerve them to such a degree that we neutralize  the stressful event right in its tracks. This might even turn into a giggle or  full on laugh fest.

It’s worth remembering that smiling is contagious. Let’s starting  spreading smiles, because they might just turn to all out laughter, just like  what happened to these folks on a German  train. Before everyone knew it, everyone was laughing!

It all starts with a smile!

By Celeste Yarnall, PhD

Celeste Yarnall

Celeste Yarnall, PhD shares  musings on a myriad of topics at her Celestial  Musings Blog. She is the author of The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care  with Jean Hofve, DVM and Natural Dog Care.  Celeste is an actress and speaker  who frequently does book signings and personal appearances. She and her husband  Nazim Artist created the Art of Wellness Collection and are the co-producers of  Femme: Women Healing the World. They live in Los Angeles, California with their  beloved Tonkinese cats! Join Celeste at her  website or on Facebook.

Photo of Celeste Yarnall by Alan Mercer

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