Why Smiling Frequently Is Important, Even When You Don't Feel Like It.
Smiling is a great personal power tool that you can access within seconds. The impact on your own health and wellbeing is wonderful, and everyone around you benefits too. Sometimes it needs a little practice though!
Some time ago I suggested that my mildly depressed, rather stressed friend spent some time intentionally smiling - even though she REALLY didn't feel like it. She'd made that very clear - there was no way she was going to smile because she felt so miserable, and anyway she'd feel really stupid going about with a fake smile on her face.
We never spoke of it again until one day months later, when she phoned me to say thank you!
She said she'd decided to try it and had walked around her house, forcing herself to smile:
"It felt weird but I kept it up for a couple of minutes. I did it a few times intermittently throughout the day, and then I realised something changed. I felt different. I kept doing it for a few days and it felt more natural. I definitely felt better. I was surprised because I never expected it to work!"
Yet it did. It worked very well for her, and she continues to smile on purpose whenever she feels the need.
There are two types of smile, and both have benefits.
The Duchenne smile, named after the Victorian French Neurologist. This smile engages the muscles surrounding both the mouth and the eyes, and is what we’d call a genuine smile. The standard smile. This is the sort of smile my friend was practicing – a fake smile. This involves the mouth only, and can mask a wide range of (often negative) emotions. Some people are very skilled at this and may have had years of practice, for all sorts of reasons. Many people are quick to notice when someone is smiling disingenuously, and may find it disconcerting or unfriendly, and sometimes intimidating.
Reasons why smiling is important:
Smiling, like laughing has many benefits. There are of course huge similarities, and it’s hard to laugh without smiling!
Laughing brings added benefits, but the actual process of laughing usually involves making sounds, whilst smiling does not. So you can access a smile quickly at any time, without drawing attention to yourself.
Smiling affects your body chemistry.
As you smile, the movement and position of the muscles you use triggers changes in your body chemistry, lowering stress hormones and producing feelgood ones. Therefore smiling can help balance your mood and create feelings of well-being.
Some research says that fake smiles do not count as they don't work, yet I reckon that my friend is proof to the contrary! Also there are many studies that show that fake smiles have a really positive impact.
For example, a study at the University of Kansas looked at how the two different types of smile could affect an individuals’ ability to recover from stress.
Participants were put into three groups - each trained to hold a different facial expression: neutral, a standard smile, or a Duchenne smile. Chopsticks were used to help them keep their faces in the same expression whilst they carried out a variety of specially designed stressful tasks.
After the activities, the participant’s heart rates were measured. It was found that those who wore standard smiles (even if they didn’t feel happy) were less stressed than those who had kept a neutral expression on their faces. And those who had Duchenne smiles were even more relaxed.
As the mind and body are connected, anything which balances your mood is bound to have a positive physical impact too, including reducing the effect of pain and boosting your immune system. Smiling on a regular basis helps you to be healthier generally, and perhaps to live longer.
People tend to like people who smile.
Some research has shown that genuine smiles are clear indicators of what a person is really like inside. Personally I agree with this. I’ve found that you have only to look into a person’s smiling, twinkly eyes to know that they have a good heart.
People are drawn to people who smile, because they are often perceived as being more polite, honest, trustworthy and kind. In general, women who smile are seen as being warm and approachable, and men who smile give the impression of being confident.
When a person who is smiling walks into a room it can seem as if they have switched on a light for the people around them. The energy and atmosphere can lift immediately – and people like that. If you haven’t noticed this before, try it yourself and see!
Studies have shown that more than 50% of people smile back at you when you smile at them. I’m sure that in many cases, this must then lead to them feeling good (or better than they did), and I love the fact that you can give someone the gift of your smile!
You benefit from sharing your smile with others too.
You feel good when you smile at someone. You look more youthful when you smile, and feel more youthful too!
Intentionally offering others a smile boosts your self-awareness, confidence and personal power. And it is the intention that is key here.
For example, when I go out I usually know I'm going to give people the gift of a smile as we pass on the street, or in the supermarket. Sometimes we connect, and I get a smile back. Sometimes there is no connection at all.
The point is, I want to give them this gift to brighten their day - if they’d like that. So I have the intention to do that, and I’ve noticed it makes a difference to how I feel myself. I feel more present and aware, and joyful.
Play with your smile and practice expressing it:
Some people never seem to smile. Yet perhaps they think they do. They may be smiling inwardly and they may be perfectly happy – it’s just that no-one would know because it’s not evident.
There’s nothing wrong with smiling inwardly, and any positive thoughts and feelings that accompany that can only ever do you good. Much of the time though, smiles need to be expressed – for all the benefits I’ve outlined above.
Be aware of your relaxed face.
We’ve all got one. For many of us, our relaxed faces gravitate downwards, although some of us habitually pinch our lips together or frown.
You’re probably familiar with the not-so-endearing terms that people might use to describe this look, such as ‘face like a slapped arse’ or ‘resting bitch face’.
Without a doubt, a happy smiling face is far more attractive than a grumpy, scowling one, and as Charles Gordy said: "A smile is an inexpensive way to change your looks."
This is a good way to practice your smile:
It may be helpful to spend a little time on your smile and practice, especially if you know you don't smile very much. This is a great way to increase your general self-awareness too.
Get really familiar with the two different types of smile. Find somewhere where you can be on your own and take a few moments to do this, because it’s not something you can just think about. You need to actually do it, and feel your way into it.
Fake a smile, using just the muscles around your mouth. Your mouth can be open or closed, and your teeth may be clenched together or not. Hold that position for a while. You may notice that your thoughts scatter as you look around, but just make sure that it is only your mouth that is engaged in this smile. Hard work isn’t it? I find smiling in this way is a real effort.
Next, keeping this smile on your face, gradually let it build into a real one. It may help to think of something amusing or that delights you, or even imagine that there are other people around you. Whatever you think of, FEEL when your smile becomes real – notice what’s physically happening to the muscles in your face and around your eyes, and be aware of the sensations.
Now - FEEL the inner glow. In my case, this is always to do with my eyes – it’s as if there’s something behind them, a sensation of lightness and joy. That feeling lives deeper inside my body too – but when smiling I am aware of it in my eyes. It may be different for you in some way – you might just be aware that you feel happier and more relaxed.
Smile with intention.
Some people reading this may be thinking that this is crazy, and you don’t need to go through all the rigmarole of doing the exercise above, because smiling is a natural and automatic process.
Yes, but this an important exercise to do if you are concerned that you are not expressing your smile enough. You just need to get familiar with the physical sensations, that’s all. It may feel really strange at first, and completely over the top, but it’s just that it’s new to you.
I suggest you do this a few times for a few days, until it becomes easy for you to share your smile with ease.
The next step is to make a point of smiling often, and also in situations where your ‘relaxed face’ habitually falls into place. Smiling so that it shows will soon become second nature to you if you keep building your awareness and practicing.
A genuine, bright smile is a wonderful gift to give, and to receive!
Find out about Find Your Oomph Coaching with Caroline Carr (Guaranteed to help you smile more!)
© May18th 2020 Caroline Carr
After working in the theatre and television for several years, Caroline taught drama, voice and speech in schools and prisons before becoming a life coach and hypnotherapist with a practice in Harley Street. Her personal and professional experience led to her developing a passion for teaching others how to find inner strength, confidence, positivity and joy. Hence she created Find Your Oomph. Caroline is the author of several books on mental health and women's health, and has been featured in the national press and interviewed on radio and TV.
There are a range of interesting articles and research on smiling here.
In particular, The psychological study of smiling