Only English | ‚Something that they can’t take away from you is your smile‘ they say, and it is true in many respects. Obviously, we all know (I hope so) what smiling looks and feels like. A beautiful gesture that can open doors, make people become sensitive and empathetic, and make people connect to each other. Since we are all social animals, our very survival depends on making bonds with people with a common set of values and beliefs1. The first seconds of a connection to another human being is mostly happening by a way of non-verbal communication — by facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures displayed through physical language (kinesics; incl. posture) and the physical distance between the communicators. Smiling clearly belongs to the non-verbal communication skills. Skills? Yes, even the most natural thing in the world has become a skill that needs to be actively maintained and even reacquired.
Have you smiled today?
A trivial question that we ask our clients frequently, especially those who’ve experienced chronic musculoskeletal pain. Chronic pain is mostly perceived negatively, like any other negative emotion it should be encountered with positive feelings such as happiness, love and care. The severity and persistence of chronic pain like migraine, back pain, arthritis et cetera depends on the meaning it’s being given to. The interaction between chronic pain and cognitive/emotional deficits is evident, therefore chronic pain management can only be effective if the limbic system (part of the brain in which emotions are ingrained) is addressed2.
The smile is a powerful tool in a human’s life. The neuroscience and the psychoneuroimmunology (study of how the brain is connected to the immune system) show clear evidence that the simple act of smiling reduces our stresslevel, boosts the body’s resistance, counteracts anxiety and depression and lowers the heart rate3. Put differently, it’s of high value for all of us in regard to well-being and illness prevention. The good news, you can’t overdose smiling — the more the merrier.
There are basically two types of smiling, the ’standard‘ smile that engages the muscle around the mouth (zygomaticus major muscle) and the ‚genuine‘ smile that engages both zygomaticus major and orbicularis oculi muscle (muscle around the eyes) [Ekmann & Friesen, 1982]. The ‚genuine‘ smile is known to be more effective on the aforementioned benefits, however, both are highly beneficial as a study at the University of Kansas has shown4. The picture below displays the two types, the ’standard‘ with chopsticks sticking between the teeth and the ‚genuine‘ with chopsticks sticking between the mouth.
What’s this study all about, since the smile in either case looks artificial?
‚Fake it till you make it‘ is the answer. Yes, you can fake a smile and get similar results as if you were actually smiling or laughing because of joy and pleasure. S. Pressman, Ph.D., explains: ‚It’s not just that our brains are happy and make us smile, it can also be the opposite — we feel the smile and become happy,‘ she says. In other words, for those of you who are currently having a hard time giving someone else or yourself a big smile, through faking it physically you can trick your brain. The physical act of smiling makes the brain believe that happiness is being expressed. Consequently, the pineal gland gets stimulated to release the ‚good-feeling‘ hormone serotonin5. The release of serotonin is happening in regard to smiling in two ways, either you smile physically (at somebody or on just for yourself) or somebody else smiles at you. Serotonin amongst other hormones like oxytocin and dopamine is the one that you would want to have curving through your blood vessels, since it makes you feel very good. The more you smile, the better off you are going to be.
Researches show that an increased level of serotonin strengthens the immune system, counteracts the level of depression and anxiety, supports the quality of sleep, digestion and sexual behavior. Whereas a low level of serotonin is directly linked to depression6.
Putting all evidence aside, there are plenty of reasons why I should be walking around with a big smile on my face.
A. You are alive.
B. You can breathe.
C. You can move.
D. You can feel.
E. You can give and share.
F. You can explore and discover.
Help yourself and other by smiling a lot more. Your hormone system aka Mother Nature will reward you instantly. Doing it out of joy and pleasure is seemingly the most natural way to express these feelings, however, the opposite works as well. You can practice just by yourself and smile for 50-60 seconds/ a few times a day, or you can practice with/on somebody else. Always remember, smiling is contagious. Smiling at your neighbor, partner, friend or stranger will break down barriers and make you connect. The release of positive hormones like serotonin isn’t just happening within yourself, it also gets released within somebody else if you share it. 😊
- Book: Simon Sinek ‚Leaders eat last: why some teams pull together and others don’t‘, 2014.
- Paper: M.C. Bushnell ‚Cognitive and emotional control of pain and its disruption in chronic pain‘, Nature Reviews | Neuroscience, 2013.
- Paper: B. Strean ‚Laughter prescription‘ Vol 55: Canadian Family Physician, October 2009.
- Paper: Kraft & Pressman ‚Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response‘, 2012.
- Paper: N. Young ‚How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs‘, J Psychiatry Neurosci; 32(6):394-9, 2007.