The simple act of smiling has a powerful effect on how we feel, our immune system and even how we react to pain. The old saying of “fake it till you make it” is true. If you feel a bit flat, put on a smile and you will actually feel better.
Charles Darwin developed the Facial Feedback Response Theory which suggests that the act of smiling actually makes us feel better – rather than smiling being merely a result of feeling good. This has been backed up time and time again by research.
In 1983 University of Washington psychologist Marsha Linehan and her colleagues found that when people altered their facial expressions on a purely muscular level, their emotions were affected, and so was activity in the nervous system associated with positive or negative emotions. Put simply, smile, you feel good; frown you feel not so good.
Psychologist Sarah Pressman of the University of California at Irvine conducted an interesting experiment involving getting an injection at the doctors. Of the study group, those that smiled through the procedure reported 40% less pain. What makes it even more interesting is they were not told to smile, their mouth was manipulated into a smile position with chopsticks, but the body thought they were smiling!
The body is not able to distinguish a fake smile and a true smile. Smile and the body believes you are happy. In fact, seeing a smile on another person’s face overrides our ability to control the muscles of our face, making us want to smile also. A smile is evolutionarily contagious – mimicking a smile and experiencing it physically, helps us interpret how genuine a smile is. It helps us understand the real emotional state of the smiler.
Smiling helps the immune system – a handy tip for winter. You will have a higher white blood cell count, increased infection fighting antibodies and decreased stress hormones if you smile and laugh.
Smiling can help in sports – ever been in that stage of an event where it really starts hurting and you’ve just about had enough? Smile and the pain melts away to be manageable. Look at the winners of Ironman – huge smiles cover their faces. They seem to be genuinely enjoying it. From the words of World Champions Natascha Badmann and Chrissie Wellington “smile and everything will be wonderful”.