The science of a SMILE

A happy expression, even a fake one, can make us happier and healthier. Dr Rachna Khanna Singh explains how 

If you are happy, you smile. But can you become happy if you smile? If this sounds like a puzzle, let me assure you it is a scientifically proven fact. Experiments have shown that even forcing or “faking” a smile can trick our brain into believing we are actually happy. Smiling reduces stress, which, in turn, actually makes us happier.   

The health of a smile

It is said that smiling is one of the easiest and most natural acts that can affect a human being’s mental and physical health positively. It cheers us up and reassures us of our well-being. Research has proved that people who smile more lead a longer, more fulfilling life, tend to look younger than their actual age and are less prone to illnesses. 

When we smile and laugh, a number of physiological changes occur in our body, mostly without us being aware of them. When we smile, neurotransmitters called endorphins are triggered by the movements of our facial muscles. Endorphins are responsible for making us feel happy, helping to lower stress levels, and acting as the body’s natural pain killer. For sufferers of chronic pain, laughing and smiling can be very effective in pain management, as can be laughing off the pain when you bump your elbow or fall over. Research has found that frequent smiling can better the condition of a person’s heart too. It also helps lower the heart rate and blood pressure.

Fake works

Faking a smile or laugh works as well as the real thing — the brain doesn’t always differentiate between real and fake, as it only interprets the positioning of the facial muscles.

More than a century ago, naturalist Charles Darwin had claimed that facial expressions don’t just mirror our emotions but also make them more intense, and that people could really be happier if they forced themselves to smile. A more recent experiment by German social psychologist Fritz Strack also proved the theory.

Involving a large crowd, Strack proved that when people held a pen with their teeth, thus pulling back their lips significantly to almost imitate a smile, their sense of humour was heightened. Termed as “facial feedback hypothesis”, this experiment triggered more research into the science of a smile. In 2011, studies found that Botox injections, when administered to reduce the wrinkles of a frown, made the recipient feel less stressed. In other words, happy!

So, the next time you are having a bad day at work, try to hold your face in a smile for a moment and feel a little happier.

The author is a medical practitioner and the views expressed in this article  are her own

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