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How a smile can trick your brain into happiness

Published: 12 Jun 2019

Has anyone ever told you to cheer up and smile? It’s sometimes not the most welcomed advice, especially when you’re feeling sick, tired or down in the dumps. But there’s actually a very good reason to take their advice and turn that frown into a smile – even if you have to fake it. Science has shown that the mere act of smiling can lift your mood, lower stress, boost your immune system and possibly even prolong your life.

Whilst a real smile is always better than a fake smile – if you’re fighting cancer it can be difficult to find something to genuinely smile about.   So, we’ve come up with ten good reasons to keep on smiling… even when you don’t feel like it:

1. Smiling stimulates the production of endorphins

A smile sets off a chemical reaction in the brain, which releases certain hormones including dopamine and serotonin. Dr. Isha Gupta, a neurologist from IGEA Brain and Spine, explains “Dopamine increases our feelings of happiness and serotonin release is associated with reduced stress. Low levels of serotonin and dopamine can lead to problems with depression and in some instances, aggression.” 

2.    Smiling changes the way you think

Just 60 seconds of smiling every morning can supercharge your mood. And if something goes awry during the day, try smiling to quickly shift your mood. It can only take 10 to 15 seconds for it to make a difference, helping you feel less stressed and see things from a different perspective. In other words, even fake smiling can trick your brain into believing you’re happy, which can then give you actual feelings of happiness!

3.    Just the physical act of smiling is enough to make a difference

Did you know it was Charles Darwin who first hypothesized in the 19th century that facial expressions didn't only reflect emotions, but also caused them?

We all know that a genuine smile is better than a fake one – but it doesn’t have to be real to have a positive effect. Dr. Murray Grossan, an ENT-otolaryngologist in Los Angeles points to the science of psychoneuroimmunology (the study of how the brain is connected to the immune system), “Just the physical act of smiling can make a difference in building your immunity. When you smile, the brain sees the muscle [activity] and assumes that humor is happening.” 

4.    Smiling has many health benefits

Studies have shown, over and over again, that depression weakens our immune system, whilst happiness boosts our body’s resistance – and smiling makes us happy! Researchers at the University of Kansas published findings that smiling helps to improve the body’s immune system, as well as reducing response to stress and lowering heart rates in tense situations; another study linked smiling to lower blood pressure, while yet another suggests that smiling leads to life longevity.

5.    Smiling is an international language

A smile is the most international language that everyone knows. No matter where you are in the world, whether you are speaking in a different language or from a different background, a smile is understood and will put everyone at ease.

6.    Smiling can open up the hearts and minds of others

If you smile at other people it can immediately change their reaction towards you in a positive way.  Dr. Eva Ritzo a psychiatrist and author, explains why: “We have mirror neurons that fire when we see action. As the name suggests, mirror neurons enable us to copy or reflect the behavior we observe in others and when we smile this has been linked to an increased capacity for empathy.”

7.    Smiling is contagious. 

Have you ever been in a bad mood and then someone comes along with a huge smile and makes you feel better? Have you noticed that when you smile at someone they smile back?  As the saying goes – smile and the world smiles with you. A smile’s contagion is so potent, that we may even be able to catch one from ourselves. Dr. Ritzo recommends smiling at yourself in the mirror, an act she says not only triggers our mirror neurons but can also help us calm down and re-center if we’re feeling low or anxious.

8.    A smile makes you more attractive

Ok, this may not be your primary reason for smiling (or maybe it is!) but it’s one to consider. Smiling makes people look healthier and more attractive than being the right weight or even wearing make-up, according to a new study. Psychologists at Swansea University asked volunteers how happy a series of faces seemed as well as how healthy and attractive they appeared. They found people with genuine smiles, rather than simply looking cheerful or having a blank expression, were even more likely to be seen as attractive, healthy and glowing. Haven’t you ever felt drawn to the smiling happy person in the room?

9.    People can hear a smile

If you’ve ever worked in sales or customer service you’ll have probably been told at some point to ‘smile and dial’. But is it true? Apparently, human beings can differentiate vocal intonation, not only between a smile and a non-smile but among different types of smile! So, if you want people to warm to you on the phone, try smiling. 

10.    Imagine a world without smiles

Life just wouldn’t be as enjoyable if we didn’t smile. Picture a world full of misery with no smiles and laughter – if that isn’t reason enough to start smiling and spreading happiness, I don’t know what is!

Are you feeling down and need someone to help you smile, or are you able to help put a few smiles on other people’s faces?  If so, join the Chemotherapy Support Group where you’ll find 1000s of members from across the globe; some offering advice and others asking for your support. 


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Penguin Cold Caps are the original inventors of modern cold cap therapy; the drug-free, non-invasive and most successful method for reducing chemotherapy-induced hair loss. 

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