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In Society

The Beneficial Effects of a Smile

Peter Griffith / Getty Images.

“When I see you smile / I can face the world … / you know I can do anything / When I see you smile / I see a ray of light … / I see it shining right through the rain.”

There might be some truth to these power ballad lyrics made famous by the hard rock band Bad English in the late ‘80s.

We tend to regard smiling as a reaction to or the effect of uplifting experiences. While this is true, research studies have revealed that the act of smiling itself can be the cause for oneself experiencing joy and can even influence others. Here are some studies that support this:

Smiling prompts the brain to make you feel good.

A 2009 comparative fMRI study out of the Technical University of Munich found that muscle and skin activity of facial expressions may directly influence emotions. Specifically, the evidence suggests that imitating facial expressions activates regions of the brain that produce hormones associated with emotion.[1] This means that when one person smiles and the other person smiles back, both brains are prompted to make them feel good.

Smiling could add years to your life.

Over the years, the scientific study of happiness has found that there is a variety of additional benefits to a life with more positive emotions. One such finding published in 2010 in the journal Psychological Science by researchers from Wayne State University found a correlation between smiling and longevity.

Analyzing the lifespan of 230 major league baseball players using their facial expressions in their 1952 baseball cards led the researchers to a fascinating conclusion. On average, the players with bigger smiles, which suggest a deeper level of contentment, lived seven years longer than those who smiled less.[2]

Smiling could bring a lifetime of benefits.

Another longitudinal study out of the University of California, Berkeley, sought to prove that people’s smiles in yearbook photographs at age 21 would envisage a life rich with benefits. Spanning 30 years, the study collected data from 100 women at different stages of their lives. Taking into account various factors that influence emotional experience, the study produced overwhelming results.[3]

Those who expressed more positive emotion in their pictures became more achievement-oriented later in life and demonstrated greater resilience when facing challenges. Smiling expressions in their pictures at 21 were also found to be accurate predictors of how inspiring others found them and how fulfilled they felt in their relationships later in life.[4]

While challenging experiences warrant real acknowledgement, how do our reactions impact our lives? Maybe finding something to smile about can help us in more ways than we know.


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