The Power Of Smiling: 7 Secrets Of The World’s Most Powerful Gesture

When I was a little girl, I thought I knew a powerful tool to get what I wanted in life. I could use it to feel good, to influence decisions, to build relationships, to sort out conflicts and to bring joy and well-being to others.

This tool was a smile.

Smiling is powerful.

Here, I would like to share with you my favorite seven scientific observations about it [1] :

1. Smiling is universal. The gesture of smiling is understood and interpreted as a signal of joy and happiness, across the world. In studies of Paul Ekman, the world-renowned expert on facial expressions, even the Papa New Guinea’s Fore tribe (which is separated from the outside world and known for their unusual cannibalism), understands the gestures of smiling the same way the Western people do. [2]

2. It’s easy to do. The beauty of a smile is that we all know how to do it because we are born with this ability. Smiles have an evolutionary advantage for babies. They have been shown to procure love and attachment, ensuring that the care-giver will continue to look after the baby despite the challenges, and enhance their well-being. [3]

3. Smiling is argued to predict the length of our life! The Abel and Kruger’s study of baseball cards photos found that the span of a player’s smile could predict the span of his life. Players who didn’t smile in their pictures, lived an average of only 72.9 years, while players with beaming smiles, lived an average of 79.9 years.[4]

4. It’s good for our relationships too! LeeAnne Harker and Dacher Keltner in the UC Berkeley over the course of 30 years examined the smiles of students in an old yearbook, and measured their well-being and success throughout their lives. By measuring the smiles in the photographs the researchers were able to predict how fulfilling and long lasting their marriages would be and their general well-being and happiness. The widest smilers consistently ranked the highest in all of the above.[5]

5. Better than chocolate and sex. Smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in a way that even chocolate or sex, well-regarded pleasure-inducers, cannot match. In a study conducted by Packard in the UK, British researchers found that one smile can provide the same level of a brain stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars; they also found that smiling can be as stimulating as receiving up to 16,000 Pounds Sterling in cash.[6]

6. Smiling is a healthy energy-booster. Unlike chocolate, it can actually make you healthier. Smiling has documented therapeutic effects, and has been associated with reduced stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline), increased health and mood enhancing hormone levels (like endorphins), and lowered blood pressure.[7]

7. Other positive side-affects. Smiling makes people more memorable and attractive. A study at Penn State Uni confirmed that when we smile we not only appear more likeable and courteous, but we’re actually perceived to be more competent.[8]

But not all smiles are healthy for us.

Fake or ‘non-enjoyment smiles’ can be as bad as anger. And we know from a research that anger is detrimental to our health.[9]

All smiles involve the zygomaticus major, the muscle on each side of our faces that raises our lip corners. Non-enjoyment smiles stop there. They do not involve the orbicularis oculi, the muscle that circles each of our eyes and lifts our cheeks and creates crow’s feet. That’s the area that we know, defines whether a person genuinely is experiencing joy or it is an insincere positivity, which may actually lead to more health problems as anger does.[10]

How to distinguish between a real and a fake smile?

I have made a video to explain and demonstrate the difference. Click here to watch:

Did you know that, unlike children, who smile more than 300 times a day, when we become adults, this smiling joy drops to fewer than 20 smiles per day. A sign of “growing up’? Maybe it’s time to find our inner-child again.

So, when you next smile, make sure it is big and genuine!

With lots of smiles,

Darya

References:

[2] Ekman, P. Cross-Cultural Study of Facial Expression in P. Ekman (Ed.) Darwin and Facial Expression. A Century of Research in Review. New York Academic Press, 1973, 169-222.

[3] Lyubomirsky, S. (2007) The How of Happiness: A Practical Guide to Getting the Life You Want, Piatkus, p. 264-5.

[4] Abel E.L., Kruger M.L. (2005). Longevity of major league baseball players. Research in Sports Medicine, 13, 1–5. Google Scholar

[9] Williams, R. (1998), Anger Kills: Seventeen Strategies for Controlling the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health (New Your: Harper Torch)

[10] Rosenberg, E.L., Ekman, P., et al. (2001), ‘Linkages between facial expressions of anger and transient myocardial ischemia in men with coronary artery disease’, EmotionI: 107-15

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