The science behind a smile

I have a riddle for you.

What’s a little bit more than a mile, yet fits on your face?

It’s better than a facelift, it’s contagious, it’s free, and makes you feel better.

Yes, the answer is a smile.

There’s great power in our smiles. Even though they’re often hidden right now, we might want to consider smiling anyway.

Smiles not only lift others’ spirits, they have overall benefits for our brain and body health. Science reveals why.

With each grin, a little party happens in our heads, caused by the release of both neurotransmitters and neuropeptides in our brains.

Neurotransmitters such as dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin are released each time a smile flashes across our faces. These brain chemicals aid in calming our nervous systems by lowering heart rate and blood pressure, and this is a very good thing.

Dopamine gives the brain energy, motivation, a rush, and is necessary for habit change.

The endorphins secreted in response to a smile reduce our perception of pain and trigger a positive, euphoric feeling in our bodies.

Serotonin plays many different roles and controls our over-all moods. It can be thought of as a confidence molecule and flows when we feel significant.

The discovery of neuropeptides was important as it allowed science to connect the workings of the mind with the processes of the body.

Among other things, neuropeptides tell our bodies whether we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, or excited. When we smile, the neuropeptides tell the body we are happy.

Smiling improves our immune function by reducing stress and cortisol levels in our bodies.

Cortisol is the hormone secreted in response to stress, and high levels of cortisol are hard on our bodies and inhibit our immune systems. One study found that smiling helps the body produce more white blood cells, which fight illness.

One experiment showed that participants with elevated heart rates had their rate return to normal more quickly when they smiled.

Smiling involving the eyes activates the orbitofrontal cortex, the region of your brain that processes sensory rewards. This suggests that your brain feels rewarded when you smile or see a smile; it could be a great diet strategy.

When we are smiling, we even perceive other people’s faces differently, and will tend to see a smile on even seemingly neutral faces.

When we are smiling others tend to perceive us differently. Smiling faces are deemed to be more attractive. Who doesn’t want to be more attractive, especially with Valentine’s Day right around the corner?

People with smiling faces are judged by others to be, not only more attractive, but more confident, reliable, relaxed and sincere.

If you’ve nothing to smile about, smile anyway. The adage of fake it until you make it is true here, because even fake smiles have benefits.

The feedback from the skeletal muscles involved in making a smile tells your body to release hormones and neuropeptides. Research showed that even fake smiles lower our heart rates and ease stress.

People who frequently smile genuinely tend to live longer. They tend to stay married longer, live healthier, and have higher levels of physical and emotional well being.

Smiles are contagious, as most people can’t help but smile back at a smiling face. When we look at a smiling face, our brain coaxes us to return the favour.

This creates a symbiotic relationship allowing both people to release feel-good chemicals in the brain, activating our reward centres, making us more attractive, healthier, and more resilient.

Research found that when people were asked to frown whilst looking at the picture of the smiling face, they could not as they mimicked the smile unless they really focused.

The simple act of a smile can transform you and the world around you.

According to Thich Nhat Hahn, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Smile! Let the party begin.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress or to life. We are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 44 years and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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