Portrait of happy woman at brick wall. Credit: Bonninstudio/Westend61/Cover Images
It’s time to get smiling!
With the U.K. remaining in lockdown for the next few months, it’s even more important that we look for opportunities to spread kindness and smiles to those around us.
Scientific research has shown that smiling, or seeing a smile, is contagious and can stimulate happy thoughts – even if you do not feel happy at the time – suggesting that our facial expressions have a greater impact on our health and wellbeing than we think.
To encourage more people to crack a smile and experience the benefits this simple gesture can have, Susannah Schaefer, Executive Vice Chair, President and CEO of the international children’s cleft charity, Smile Train, has shared five key health benefits associated with smiling.
Smiling helps you feel happy
“Smiling moves muscles in your face, that in turn, unconsciously release endorphins which trigger a positive feeling and lift your mood,” Susannah explains. “So, even if you are not feeling happy, your body will be tricked into thinking you are! Therefore, the more you smile and stimulate your brain to release this chemical, the happier you will feel.”
Smiling helps release stress and anxiety
“The release of special endorphins through smiling can also help to lower your stress levels, helping you to feel calm and relaxed,” Susannah says. “These endorphins act as the body’s natural painkiller – so by smiling and laughing, we are able to reduce feelings of pain and negativity. For example, if you fall over and cut your knee, someone might encourage you to ‘laugh the pain away’.
“Endorphins have many great health benefits – so simply cracking a smile will help you to feel both good on the inside, and outside.”
Smiling helps you in social situations
“Psychology has shown that smiling makes you more attractive to others, which is why someone is more likely to approach you if you smile at them. This is because people are more likely to engage with someone socially if they appear friendly, approachable, and personable,” she continues. “Smiling is an inviting facial expression which eases tension and makes people feel comfortable around each other, making it the perfect ice breaker in social situations.”
Smiling helps our brains to function
“Laughing and smiling is also believed to encourage the release of serotonin, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘happy chemical’,” Susannah shares. “Like endorphins, serotonin is a neurotransmitter which contributes to a person’s happiness and wellbeing. It works by sending messages between nerve cells in the brain, giving it an important role to play in mental health and brain function, because of its ability to regulate mood.”
Smiling makes others smile too
“Our brains contain cells called mirror neurons, which help us understand other people by subconsciously imitating their actions. And so if you smile at someone, it will stimulate the part of their brain that controls facial movement, causing them to smile too. Smiles are contagious – the best way to make those around you feel happy – is to smile!”
Smile Train is an international children’s charity that provides free cleft surgery and comprehensive care to individuals in need.