Smiling is pretty important, right? It’s one of the primary ways we communicate to others that we’re happy, feeling good or having a good day. It’s the result of something that’s lifted our spirits and made us feel great.
But what if that’s not the case? What if we’re happy because we’re smiling?
There’s a fair bit of research out there that shows just that.
Smiling Improves Our Mood
There have been a number of studies conducted over the past few decades to try and better understand the link between our emotions and our facial expression. The first was a study conducted in the late 80’s that focused on just that. Researchers had participants hold a pencil in their mouth in one of three ways (without them knowing the study was based on emotion) to force a particular type of facial expression.
The first group held the pencil in their mouth to force a smile, the second to force a frown and the third simply held the pencil in their hands and maintained a blank expression. The participants were then told to watch a series of cartoons and rate them on their funniness. The group whose facial expression was forced into a smile gave the cartoons a much higher rating than the other two groups.
A different study focused on comparing an anxiety/depression focused questionnaire between two groups of women: one group that gotten facial Botox injects, and one that had not. The facial Botox injections make it more difficult for one to frown, so the researchers were trying to determine if a decrease in frowning led to an overall less anxious and depressed mood. The study concluded that the women who had a more difficult time frowning reported lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression from the questionnaire.
The connection here is pretty clear: those who smile more and frown less more frequently feel positive emotions. It’s not just that we smile because we’re feeling better, but the act of smiling causes a trigger in our brain and changes our mood for the better.
Smiling Decreases Pain
What about pain though? There’s almost nothing in this world that will worsen our mood more than feeling pain – can our facial expression help with that too? Let’s look at two more studies.
The first study was published in 2008 by the Journal of Pain (which sounds incredibly grim). Researches had participants sit in a chair while they applied uncomfortable levels of heat to their forearms and asked them to make one of three facial expressions: relaxed, discomfort or neutral. They then asked each group to rate the amount of pain they were feeling. The group that held a relaxed facial expression reported smaller amounts of pain from the heat than the other two groups.
Another study focused on how smiling affects the hormonal levels in our blood. It concluded that smiling and laughing can actually reduce cortisol levels (a stress hormone) in our bloodstream. This means that the act of smiling physically remove the hormones that cause us to feel stress. It’s not just that we feel better, it’s that our body is literally reacting to us smiling.
Why It Happens
So what does this mean exactly? How could smiling possibly improve our mood more than other actions? As is the case with a lot of things scientists aren’t totally sure, but they have a few good ideas.
The current theory is based around something called ‘facial feedback’. It’s basically a link between the brain and our facial muscles. This provides us with a way to keep tabs on what our body is actually doing.
As for the pain, our brain will take this ‘facial feedback’ and use it to alter the release of different hormones and endorphins. It’ll not only reduce the output of stress inducing hormones like cortisol but also increase the output of endorphins like serotonin, which can help mask our feelings of sadness and pain.
Improving Your Smile
While it’s hard to deny that there’s a link between how much we smile and how happy we are, that can go entirely to waste if we feel self-conscious about how our smile looks. Nobody wants to do something they feel embarrassed about. Below are a few pro-tips on how to improve your smile and feel more comfortable with it.
- Oral Care: Make sure that you’re following your dentist’s advice to the T. The better you take care of your teeth, the whiter they’ll be. This means brushing twice a day for two minutes each, flossing (or using an oral irrigator) and rinsing your mouth out with mouthwash.
- Your Diet: Food and drinks like coffee, wine and citrus fruits and stain your teeth and promote tooth decay. While it’s not realistic to cut those out entirely, just try to be a bit more careful about how often you consume them.
- Using The Right Products: There are tons of different products you can use to safely whiten your teeth, but choosing the right ones can be a bit tough. Make sure you do your research to pick out the most effective products to improve your smile.
Feeling happy is often a difficult thing to do. While therapists, friends, family and others will encourage you to make sweeping changes to your life to improve how you feel, sometimes the little things can add up.
Just smile a bit more. It‘ll help more than you think.
Guest post by: Purveyor of clean teeth, healthy gums and super smiles, Jeffery Williams is a tried and true oral health expert. When he’s not researching and writing articles for his website, Oradyne.net, he’s out conquering the northern forests of Washington State with his wife Violet. Download his free Oral Health Ebook to change the way you care for your teeth and improve your smile for life.