It is a superficial muscle movement, yet it can convey a wide array of human emotions.
With a flex of a muscle here and a contraction of a muscle there, you can make people feel safe, welcome, happy, and accepted.
The power of a smile is extraordinary and has some interesting health benefits.
Our bodies have the ability to heal themselves, and with the help of our minds, we can change the way we look at the world.
Smiling is often involuntary, a reaction to something we saw, heard, or experienced.
But what if we made a conscious effort to smile more?
Could it change how we live our lives and interact with those around us?
Let’s look at 13 facts about smiling that may encourage you to do it more often.
1. There Are Many Different Types of Smiles
According to a BBC article, there are nineteen types of smiles, but only six of them are for happiness.
What we all consider a ‘real’ smile is called a Duchenne smile, coined by a 19th-century neurologist Duchenne de Boulogne.
These smiles usually last longer, come from feelings of happiness, and cause the muscles at the corners of our eyes to contract.
Interestingly, this discovery came about through experiments on severed heads, not really a situation to smile about!
Research has shown that we smile when we are scared, when we are angry, when we are embarrassed and when we are flirting.
Studies show that smiling can be broken down into three types:
1) Reward Smile
Reward smiles are used to motivate ourselves and others, and they use a lot of facial muscles. This reinforces the behavior, particularly in children.
2) Affiliative Smile
Affiliative smiles are social smiles.
They help us connect with other people by showing that we are trustworthy and polite.
3) Dominance Smile
A dominant smile is more like a sneer and has negative connotations but is very effective.
It is often seen as a threat, and the body often produces the stress hormone cortisol in response.
2. Smiling is a Global Sign of Happiness…Or Is It?
It is safe to assume that a smile means you are happy, right?
According to modern neuroscience, smiling is not always a good indication of happiness.
Not only that, but smiling has different meanings for different cultures.
In America, for example, people smile and make eye contact all the time, while in Russia, smiling means you are being silly or sneaky.
Australians and Canadians also smile more to show happiness, but the Japanese culture does not believe in outwards displays of emotions, and smiles are less common.
The research shows that countries with a sizeable immigrant population tend to smile more. This seems to be because of the language barrier that existed between the different cultures, and a smile was one non-verbal way of communicating.
In countries like Norway and Sweden, the population is considered happy, yet they are not countries big on smiles. On the other hand, America is known for being friendly and smiling and yet has a large proportion of unhappy people.
Although smiling may not be considered a global sign of happiness, it is an excellent way to show friendliness.
Humans are extremely good at reading non-verbal cues, so when in doubt, smile.
3. Women Smile More Often Than Men
A large-scale study found that women are more expressive than men, and they do tend to smile more.
It also found that women often overexaggerate their expressions.
An interesting point made by the study was that women might be more expressive, particularly when it comes to positive emotions because they have been conditioned to do that.
Society expects women to be happy and positive, which may be why women smile more often, even if they don’t mean it.
On the other hand, men expressing their emotions is still not considered the norm, which might mean that men smile less and show their feelings less.
A Yale study found that, on average, women smile 62 times per day, whereas men only smile eight times per day.
Maybe it’s evolutionary, and women just have better smiling mechanisms, or perhaps they are more in tune with their emotions.
Whatever the reason, men could try a little harder to smile and start releasing all those happy hormones.
4. Smiling Reduces Stress
Smiling not only feels good, but it also has some real health benefits.
Life is stressful, but science says you can relieve some of that stress with a simple smile.
Smiling releases neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, decreasing stress and making you feel happier.
Psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas studied how different types of smiles affect stress levels and the heart.
They found that the old saying, “grin and bear it,” is scientifically accurate as the test subjects who smiled through the stress test were found to have lower heart rates.
Even more interesting was the fact that faking a smile had a similar effect!
5. A Smile is Contagious
Humans are biologically wired to mimic the facial expressions of those around us.
In a paper by Paula Niedenthal and Adrienne Wood, social psychologists at the University of Wisconsin, they say that we will mimic facial expressions to better relate to people and their feelings.
Smiling at people deepens our connection and makes our interactions more meaningful. A smile is also wholly unbiased and crosses societal divides. It can be given or received by anyone.
Smiling produces a hormone response in the body that makes you feel happy. When you smile at someone else, they feel happy as well and can’t help but smile back.
The ability to spread good vibes with a few simple muscle contractions is a special part of being human.
It is also a vital tool in our evolution and keeps us alive.
The ability to recognize and interpret the facial expressions of those around us is a form of self-preservation. We are naturally designed to simulate the expressions around us.
If that is the case, would it not make sense to make a conscious effort to smile more?
If a smile is as contagious as a frown, should we not all choose to share smiles and good hormones rather than frowns and stress responses?
6. A Smile Can Reduce Pain
We know that a smile can make us feel happier, but could it reduce pain?
A study from the Irvine School of Ecology at the University of California found that smiling or grimacing reduced the pain of an injection by up to 40%.
They also found that those participants who held a Duchenne smile during the injection experienced a lower heart rate and less overall body stress.
Who would have thought that smiling could make life less painful?
Smiling helps your body release endorphins which are natural painkillers. They diminish how painful we perceive something to be.
This might explain why we often smile when we are in pain. It might be our body’s way of trying to deal with the pain.
So next time you have a doctors’ appointment or maybe a bikini wax, remember to smile your way through it!
7. Smiling Can Lower Blood Pressure
Do you know what your blood pressure is all about?
It is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood around your body.
A healthy heart means a normal blood pressure range, which you want.
But as we age, our arteries begin to stiffen, making our blood pressure increase. This can be extremely dangerous, and high blood pressure is often called a ‘silent killer.’
Lifestyle changes and medication can treat high blood pressure, but there is another natural and free way to lower your blood pressure.
Laughing and smiling can increase your heart rate and the amount of oxygen used in your blood. Immediately afterward, your muscles relax, and your heart rate slows, lowering your blood pressure.
No medicine required, just some good humor!
Even if you don’t feel like smiling, give it a try. Even a fake smile can make you feel happier and lower your blood pressure.
8. Smiling Can Help You Live Longer
We are always told to be happy, which is often easier said than done.
But what if smiling and being happy and optimistic could keep you healthy and help you live longer?
Lots of research shows that happy people are at less risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and lung issues.
But now a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that happy people lived longer and had a better chance of living past 85 years old.
If you are not a person who smiles a lot, there are techniques to help.
You can practice the psychotherapy technique of the half-smile. This involves you spending a few minutes every day sitting and smiling. It doesn’t have to be a full smile and can be a half-smile.
This technique is said to help you cope with sad feelings, and if you practice the technique every day, you should notice a difference in your levels of happiness and optimism.
If improving your health and adding a few years to your life isn’t a good enough reason to smile, then I don’t know what is!
9. Smiling Makes You Seem Friendly
Smiling at someone is usually a gesture of friendship and goodwill.
In Bonobo monkeys, one of our close relatives, pulling the lips back and baring the teeth is a sign of submission and prevents confrontation.
So, smiling at someone is usually a good sign!
It also makes you seem more trustworthy and approachable, allowing people to get close to you.
Smiling helps foster connections with other people, leaving you feeling less isolated and alone.
The way you smile is meaningful, though.
A genuine smile, one that causes the corners of your eyes to the crease, is considered a sign of friendliness, unlike a fake smile. These are usually a simple lifting of lips and don’t inspire the same feelings of trust and friendship.
True smiles are often involuntary, so if you smile at someone, they will more than likely smile back, and an instant connection is formed.
10. A Smile is the First Thing People Notice
What do you first notice when you meet someone?
Chances are, it is their smile.
This is because it is a non-verbal cue to how friendly or sincere they are.
A genuine smile will make you smile back and make you feel happy and comfortable. If a person doesn’t smile when you meet them, you immediately feel tense and uncomfortable.
So, it is not just a smile that you notice first, but the way that smile makes you feel.
People who smile also seem more confident, capable, and happy. These are attractive qualities, and we are drawn to self-assured people.
Unfortunately, part of this is that people are judged on their appearance. If you have a beautiful smile with straight teeth, you are perceived as more successful and attractive.
So, when meeting people for the first time or going for a job interview, remember to smile in a genuine way.
11. Smiling is One of a Baby’s First Facial Expressions
Have you ever made silly faces and noises to try and make a baby smile?
Most parents look forward to those first few gummy grins, but are they real?
Babies begin to smile within the first few weeks of their lives, usually while sleeping.
By two months, a baby’s smile starts to express their feelings of happiness or contentment.
Babies have the same range of smiles that adults do and often respond to loved ones with a genuine Duchenne smile while reserving a social smile for strangers.
By six months old, babies have developed their own temperament, and some will smile more than others, just as adults do.
It seems smiling is something that humans do innately, and babies are born with the ability to smile.
12. Smiling Can Help You Seem More Intelligent
Unfortunately, people judge based on physical appearance, and a nice smile is one of the first things people notice.
Your smile seems linked to people’s perceptions of your intelligence, health, and personality.
Research shows that a genuine smile that produces wrinkles makes you seem more intelligent than a fake smile.
This might also be the “halo effect,” where a genuine smile makes you more likable and trustworthy, leading people to see you as more intelligent.
Interestingly, smiling could actually make you more intelligent and not just seem that way.
Smiling makes people feel more confident and capable and helps develop trust. This means that you will work better in a team, have the confidence to tackle problems and resolve issues quicker.
The simple act of smiling at someone can help the brain enter a happier and calmer state, allowing it to access higher brain function.
13. Smiling Boosts the Immune System
If heart health, confidence, and increased intelligence aren’t enough, smiling can actually keep you healthy.
Our mind plays such a vital role in the health of our body.
Negativity compromises our body’s ability to operate effectively, while positivity and happiness can help the body to effectively fight off bacteria and infections.
Our cells are the most basic defense we have. If they are working well, then our bodies can heal themselves.
Smiling signals the body to release dopamine which activates parts of the immune system. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, you can fake it and trick the brain into releasing dopamine.
The great part is that you actually will start to feel good after that!
Smiling is a simple but powerful tool that you can use anytime to help keep your body healthy.
So, If You Haven’t Smiled Yet, Then What Are You Waiting For?
We have so much more power over our bodies than we realize.
We have the ability to feel happier, be healthier, and less stressed simply by using a few facial muscles.
When you think of it that way, it seems crazy that we aren’t all running around smiling at everyone!
We live in a world consumed with being busy.
A world where so many people have health issues and live in unhappiness.
If we have the power to make a small difference, then why aren’t we?
Smiles are contagious and almost impossible not to respond to, so why not take Annie’s advice to heart,
‘You are never fully dressed without a smile.