Now that the holidays are over we’re headed into the unhappiest time of the year, according to studies of Tweets and Google searches. The fun of the last few weeks is coming to a screeching halt as most people head back to work tomorrow. Daylight and warm weather are both in short supply. The post-Christmas credit card statements are looming on the horizon. No wonder so many people are feeling down.
Although you may not feel like it, one of the best things you can do to improve your mood is to smile. We think of smiling as a reaction to something amusing or someone endearing. But research has shown that simply choosing to put a smile on your face can induce positive feelings. Positive psychologists have found 5 scientifically valid reasons for you to practice smiling a lot more.
1. Smiling makes you feel better both physically and emotionally. As far back as 1872 Charles Darwin observed that when people changed their facial expressions they were able to influence their mood. More recent research at the University of Kansas found that smiling greatly improves our ability to manage stress because it slows down our heart rate and lowers the level of perceived threat associated with problems. So when you’re feeling stressed over the next few months, don’t wait for something good to occur to change your mood. Smiles are contagious, so give one to get one. Stressed? Take a few deep breathes and go share a smile. In just a few minutes you will have improved your mood.
2. Smiling may help you to be healthier and live longer. An interesting study on smiling from Wayne State University examined pictures of baseball players from 1952. Those who displayed a big grin in their photos lived 7 years longer than those whose pictures were somber. Numerous studies have shown that heart heath is linked to happiness. Smiling can lower your blood pressure and reduce inflammation, two of the major contributors to heart disease. The 3 best things you can do to give yourself a long, healthy and happy life are exercising 30 minutes, sleeping 7-8 hours, and creating 5 occasions to smile every day.
3. Smiling makes other people feel better. And making a meaningful difference in someone else’s life will lead you to the highest level of happiness, according to Penn professor Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology. In a study conducted at Hewlett Packard, seeing someone smile (especially a child) stimulated the pleasure center in the brain more than getting money, eating chocolate, or even having sex. Studies have shown that we have “mirror neurons” in our brains that resonate with the emotions and expressions of others. It’s nearly impossible to hold onto a frown when someone smiles at us. So when you see someone scowling, ask yourself if you want them to bring you down or whether you’d rather elevate their emotional state by giving them a big, eye-crinkling smile.
4. Smiling will put more love in your loving relationships. Over the past 20 years many studies on marriages have found that an abundance of small micro-expressions of affection are the life blood of intimate connections. A study of women who were smiling in their high school yearbook photos found that they had more satisfying marriages at age 52. Another study discovered a direct link between a lack of a smile in a person’s younger photographs and their likelihood of being divorced later in life. In fact, the bigger smile people displayed the more likely they were to still be married, while those with scant smiles were 5 times more likely to be divorced. People who make it a practice to smile at their loved ones have been found to be more joyful, optimistic, and emotionally stable, all of which contributes to successful and satisfying relationships.
5. Smiling determines how others see you. A study conducted for Wrigley’s Healthy Smile campaign found that “both men (66%) and women (73%) believe a smile makes you more attractive than make-up – so the beauty choice of the future is free and at your instant disposal. As well as increasing your attractiveness, wearing a smile also makes you look approachable and fun. Eight out of 10 respondents ranked the word ‘approachable’ within the top three words they would associate with smiling and nearly three quarters ranked the word ‘fun’ within their top three describing attributes.”
Smiling will help you achieve happiness. So what are you waiting for – smile!