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Smile and the World Smiles with You!

I was chatting with a fellow therapist recently about how the body affects the mind. Want a quick illustration of this? Sit down on a chair with elbows on your knees, your head drooping down, your shoulders slumped and hands holding the sides of your head. How do you feel – happy? No. Probably a little low. You can try it another way round. Stand or sit up straight with your shoulders back, opening out your chest, lift your chin up and put a smile on your face. Now how do feel? I would almost certainly guess a lot brighter than in the ‘depressed’ stance. The way we hold ourselves really does have an impact on how we feel.

Ever heard of the ‘put a pencil in your mouth trick’ to put a smile on your face to cheer yourself up? Research has discovered that when people put on a "forced" smile they perceive things as funnier than if they force their faces into a pouting or frowning position. In a study, conducted by Strack et el 1988, participants were told to hold a pencil between their teeth while performing a task that involved rating the degree of humour in cartoons. Holding the pencil in the mouth this way forced the individuals to smile. Other participants were instructed to hold the pencil between their lips without touching the pencil with their teeth, and this forces the muscles to contract resulting in a frown. The authors hypothesized that participants who were led to smile would judge the cartoons as funnier than participants who were led to frown. And that’s exactly what happened.

Later research shows that smiling during brief stressors can help to reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy. So, the next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment. Not only will it help you ‘grin and bear it’ psychologically, it might actually help your heart health as well!

Smiling …

makes us attractive to others - there’s an automatic attraction to people who smile.

changes mood - if you try, even when it’s difficult, to smile when you are not feeling good, it can improve the way you are feeling.

is contagious - others will want to be with you. You will be helping others feel good.

relieves stress - stress does express itself right in our faces. When we smile, it can help us look better, less tired, less worn down.

boosts immune system - smiling can actually stimulate your immune response by helping you relax.

lowers blood pressure - when you smile, there is evidence that your blood pressure can decrease.

releases endorphins and serotonin - research has reported that smiling releases endorphins, which are natural pain relievers, along with serotonin, which is also associated with feel good properties.

Smiling has an effect on those around us too. When you smile at someone else and they smile back you are helping to create physiological changes in their bodies that may benefit them, as well as yourself.

So, put a smile on your face – you’ll look good and feel good!


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