We’ve all heard that an apple a day will keep the doctor away, but you did know the same may be true of a smile? There are a vast amount of health benefits of smiling to be reaped regardless of whether you are trying to overcome an existing health condition or practice preventative measures. Turns out that the simple act of maintaining a smiling face is a powerful and affordable self-care strategy to not only alleviate stress and anxiety, but to optimize our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Yes, its true; this basic human expression that each and every one of us possess, beginning in the womb, has the potential to improve immune function, heighten spirituality, reduce stress hormones, boost mood, gain the trust and admiration of those around you, and much more. The possibilities that exist in a happy expression can move mountains.
Smiling Boosts Neurotransmitters
Smiling helps build new neuronal pathways in the brain. These neurons plug into your brain circuitry and maintain brain function, preserving memory, logic, and learning skills. Neurotransmitters carry information between neurons and govern pretty much everything in the mind and body either directly or indirectly.
Thus, one of the greatest health benefits of smiling is its positive impact on the balance of neurotransmitters, calming your nervous system, and stabilizing your mood in the midst of everyday stressors.
A smiling face stimulates a dopamine response. Dopamine is our reward or pleasure neurotransmitter, it provides us with feelings of pleasure to ensure we will repeat behaviors needed for survival. It improves energy, focus, mood, attention, alertness, and libido and provides feelings of joy, confidence, happiness, and overall sense of well-being, and mild euphoria. It is like natural cocaine.
Smiling also boosts serotonin. Serotonin plays a significant role in modulating body temperature, sleep, pain, mood, and appetite and improves self-esteem, our sense of well-being, and contentedness with life as well. It is like a natural anti-depressant and also produces mild euphoria.
The neurotransmitter dopamine elevates when you anticipate that an activity will lead to feeling good. Dopamine brings out goal-driven behavior that drives you to complete the activity. The enjoyable part of an event produces serotonin. Dopamine is associated with excitement and the anticipation of a reward, and serotonin brings about relaxation and satisfaction after you have received it.
Smiling may also increase the production of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that balances the activity of excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate, histamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Its like a natural tranquilizer; providing us with calm and relaxation.
A smile on your face also stimulates the creation of endorphins. These neurotransmitters relieve emotional and physical pain, heighten self-esteem, create feelings of well-being and empowerment, and generate a mild euphoria. Endorphins are known for their positive effects on mood after physical activity.
Studies have found that a single smile can produce the same level of stimulation to neurotransmitters in the brain as 2000 chocolate bars. Chocolate makes you feel good because of its impact on serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, but unlike chocolate, a smile comes with none of the negative side-effects of chocolate like overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, etc. The same study found that a smile can produce the same level of brain stimulation as receiving $25,000. That means if you’re smiling a lot every day, you can essentially feel like a millionaire.
Chronic pain, mood disorders, and addictions of all kinds stem from imbalances in brain chemistry. Keeping dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and endorphins balanced is key for the prevention or healing of these conditions.
Additionally, all these neurotransmitters play a major role in modulating the stress response system and the level of spiritual fulfillment one may experience in life. Our ability to feel connected to self, others, and the Universe and find inner peace, meaning, and purpose in life is enhanced.
A smile may seem like too simple of a solution, and it certainly will not bring about complete healing in and of itself, however, when used in combination with other steps to improve neurotransmitter function and production like proper diet, deep breathing, yoga, and mindfulness-based meditation, it has the power to prompt a chain of events that can help bring your body and mind into homeostasis.
Smiling Lowers Stress Hormone Production and Boosts Immune Function
Smiling lowers levels of cortisol and adrenaline. When these stress hormones become elevated and out of balance, your risks of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and mental illness increase dramatically. A wide grin is an effective tool that helps to keep this imbalance from happening.
Additionally, smiling boosts neurotransmitters that are needed to regulate the stress response system, thus helping to restore balance to the entire autonomic nervous system. Chronic overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system is a primary contributing factor in many chronic health conditions like chronic fatigue, MCS, adrenal fatigue, insomnia, anxiety disorders, hyperactivity, high blood pressure, and many more. A healthy and balanced supply of inhibitory neurotransmitters is needed to return us to the calming and healing parasympathetic state. As a result, putting a smile on your face is an effective aid in any of these conditions.
A disease-fighting protein called gamma interferon is produced when you smile and laugh. Smiling also boosts the generation of B-cells and T-cells. These white blood cells create antibodies and play important roles in immunity.
A Smiling Face Can Improve Physical Endurance
As you likely know, proper exercise is crucial in the healing journey for adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, overcoming addictions, candida, anxiety disorders, depression, restoring balance to neurotransmitters and the autonomic nervous system, not to mention maintaining good cardiovascular health and immune function. However, the symptoms of these conditions can sometimes make exercise difficult.
Putting a smile on your face during physical activity can significantly help you through your exercise routine, as it boosts your energy and stamina. I have personally experienced this profound benefit myself and have found it to be invaluable in dealing with adrenal fatigue.
Additionally, many people with limits from a chronic health condition may find it difficult to find the strength and endurance to perform even their basic chores and activities. Smiling can be equally helpful in this area by increasing endurance for the task at hand. Simply put on a big fake smile as you run the sweeper, wash the dishes, etc., and you will be amazed at how much easier it becomes.
Fake it Till You Make It
Sometimes the day-to-day stressors and challenges that we come up against make putting a smile on your face seem next to impossible. But, the great news is that even a fake smile has the same power to put you on the path to happiness, increase energy, and reduce stress as a real one. The brain cannot tell the difference between a fake smile and a real one.
According to the facial feedback hypothesis, your brain receives messages from facial expressions and provides the matching emotion. If you maintain a smiling face, the positive messages sent to your brain change your train of thought, taking your negative feelings and transforming them into positive emotions.
This creates a positive self-perpetuating cycle where the smile creates more happiness and relaxation and the happiness and inner peace prompt more smiles and so on and so forth.
Don’t wait to feel happy before smiling. Smile and then you will feel happy.
Paste a big fake smile on your face now and begin to experience the instant health benefits of smiling with less stress, more endurance, and a better mood.
Smiling Improves Relationships and Life Satisfaction
Another great aspect of the health benefits of smiling is that they extend beyond the physical and emotional and into all areas of life. Those who smile often are perceived as being more courteous, honest, and kind. Keeping a smile on your face enhances healthy relationships with loved ones, friends, and co-workers. Smiling throughout the day connects you with others, helping to build a positive view of the world and the people around you.
This phenomenon produces measurable results. Researchers found an association between the intensity of college students’ smiles in their Facebook profile pictures and self-reported positive social experiences during their first semesters.
The same profile picture study found that smile intensity also correlated with life satisfaction years later. Those who had bigger smiles and more positive relationships reported that they were more satisfied with their lives later on in their college careers.
Smiling Can Bring You Success
People are drawn to those who smile. A happy face makes you appear more intelligent and trustworthy, causing others to be more inclined to follow your advice or buy what you’re selling.
In order to determine the effects of facial expressions, researchers followed 220 service workers as they interacted with customers. They found that regardless of gender, customers had a higher level of satisfaction when the worker was smiling as opposed to donning a neutral expression. The service workers’ smiles also created more customer smiling and favorable overall experiences.
Smiling is Contagious
Have you ever tried to maintain a straight face while someone is smiling at you? There’s a reason why it is so difficult. According to Ron Gutman, founder, and CEO of HealthTap and author of Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act, research shows that a smile is easily spread. An evolutionary mechanism suppresses control over your facial muscles when you see a smile on the face of another person.
You can learn more about all the amazing health benefits of smiling in this fantastic video from Ron Gutman.
Additionally, when we see someone else smile, it stimulates our mirror neurons. Mirror neurons allow us to sense the emotions of others and then reproduce that same chemistry in our brain. They are what enable us to feel empathy. Our brain’s neurons will start firing in the same manner as what we are observing. A smile begets a smile and a frown begets a frown. Thus, why we always feel uplifted when we are around happy people and feel pulled down by negative people.
Considering the impact on stress hormones and neurotransmitters, the act of smiling can benefit pretty much any health condition under the sun. If you are already in good health, then it can help you optimize even more and protect you from future problems.
Not only that, the health benefits of smiling can be achieved in the blink of an eye, are available at your fingertips any time of day or night, will drain zilch from your pocketbook, and requires no appointment at the doctor’s office, making it one of the most empowering self-care strategies you can find.
Knowing that you own such a powerful resource for health and success should put a smile on your face already. So make it a point to smile often, even if it’s a fake one, and enjoy all the positive changes to your physical, emotional, and spiritual health that it offers.
Health Benefits of Smiling Resources
- Seder, Patrick. “Intensity of Smiling in Facebook Photos Predicts Future Life Satisfaction.” Social Psychological and Personality Science (2011): n. pag. Print.
- Gutman, Ron. “Ron Gutman: The Hidden Power of Smiling.” YouTube. TEDtalksDirector, 11 May 2011. Web. 24 July 2012.
- Lau, Sing. “The Effect of Smiling on Person Perception.” The Journal of Social Psychology 117.1 (1982): 63-67. Print.
- Soderlund, Magnus, and Sara Rosengren. “Revisiting the Smiling Service Worker and Customer Satisfaction.” International Journal of Service Industry Management19.5 (2008): 552-74. Print.
- Amen, Daniel G. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness. New York: Times, 2000. Print.