The Big Idea
So we all know the power of a winning smile when someone else gives one – but did you know that smiling yourself can mean you are also happier, healthier, more attractive and more successful in your work? Here’s the thing: the more we smile, the more this becomes true. Smiling could possibly be the simplest most impactful habit you could make. And it’s so ‘stackable’!
Not only that but the age old adage such ‘grin and bear it’ or ‘just keep smiling’ may have far more credit to the secret of life than we might have taken it for. In fact this is one that genuinely needs to be taken at more than face value.
So what’s going on? And is smiling all it’s cracked up to be?
Got it…What’s the Science
Well there are several things going on for something that seems so simple.
Firstly when we smile our brains release a cocktail of neurotransmitters that we have already spoken about as having a positive impact on our mood and wellbeing: dopamine and serotonin (also called 5-HT) as well as endorphins – our self-made natural painkillers. These help lower anxiety and increasing feelings of happiness. Right of the bat we already know that having these in our brain help improve our ability to withstand difficulties and physical and emotional pain. So smiling can immediately help increase our ability to get through challenging times and so help us gain more resilience.
Smiling is actually requires about as many muscles as frowning – it’s just that most of tend to do more smiling and so the effort to smile is usually easier as these muscles are stronger. When we smile we also use our eyes and this is important for a number of reasons too:
Firstly, our brains are constantly scanning people’s eyes and mouthes when they are talking. This means that our brains are keyed into reading signals that other faces are giving us. In fact a study at a Aberdeen University (Scotland) found that those who smiled and made eye contact were consistently rated higher on the attractiveness scale than those who didn’t.
And most of us find a smiling is contagious – in a good way. When someone smiles most of us find it hard to resist smiling back. Smiling is likely to be an anthropological social cue to say “hey I am friendly and no threat” – the more we share this the lower our blood pressure and heart rate becomes. This is probably to help social cohesion and allow new collaborations between new people (tribe members) who are like us. So smiling also lowers the strain on our cardiovascular systems and we know that lowering this generally increases the longevity of our lives.
Decreasing our threat responses also allows our brains to think more creatively – as it frees more blood flow and resources for the logical thinking regions in our brains – the pre-frontal cortex (PFC). Smiling also leads to the release of neuropeptides that help neurones communicate more efficiently with each other.
Importantly smiling, even to ourselves, helps here – almost as much as if we are responding to a smile from someone else. A 2010 study by Andrew Oswald, a professor of economics at Warwick Business School, noted that employees who smile more often are significantly more productive and creative in the workplace. Combine this with a 2013 study from the University of California (San Francisco), that explored this connection in men and found that those who were happier had a more comprehensive approach to problems, improving their ability to think of more solutions than their negative-minded counterparts. So smiling can make you and your co-workers smarter: more creative and productive! A team manager’s dream! This is also definitely fits with ‘enjoyment performance theory’, as used by Dr Dan Harrison.
Companies like Google, Ben & Jerry’s have for years known this and so have placed an emphasis on happier workplaces (where people are likely to be more smiling) because they recognise looking after their staff in this way is more than wellbeing, engagement and retention of talent – they also get higher performing teams and results to boot!
As smiling is such an easy thing to do say compared to say cold showers #Tip1 and is another ‘stackable habit’ like #Tip5 breathing we think this is a winner. Just be warned that side effects can include people looking at you slightly oddly (say on the tube) and it’s probably one not to do when talking about bad or sobering news.
Watch our #Tip10 on the Instagram Live Recording….
Eye contact and a smile will win you a mate (NewScientist)
Grin and bear it! Smiling facilitates stress recovery (Association for Psychological Science)
How a smile adds face value (The Business Journals)
Does happiness lead to success (Psychological Bulletin)
A colleague and friend of ours, Jonathan Macdonald, who is in constant pain following numerous operations following a motorcycle accident, as well as suffering several strokes, uses audio comedies each night to help him smile and reduce his pain.
So even without the level of ‘need’ that Jonathan has, this tip is almost another no brainer when you think of the many benefits smiling can bring you and those around you. Also it’s hard to see the down side or danger in it, other than some people smiling back at you, even if out of curiosity and perhaps mild bewilderment – but hey then you’ve changed their brain’s positively anyway.
PS World Smile Day is 1st October.
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