Babies smile – a lot. Beauty queens smile – on cue. Winners smile – most of the time, in between all that jumping and high-fiving. Smiles are a way of expressing our happiness, our joy, our pride, our gratitude.
More than that, smiles are a way of connecting, of saying – without words – I’m with you on this, I acknowledge you as a fellow human or a delightful animal or a beautiful flower, someone/something I’m in sync with.
All this you already know, but did you know that smiles are really good for your health and well-being? Researchers in the UK used electromagnetic brain scans and heart-rate monitors to measure the “mood-boosting values” for a variety of stimuli including sex, chocolate and money. Their findings are astounding: one single solitary smile can provide the same level of mood-enhancement as up to 2,000 chocolate bars, as stimulating as getting up to 16,000 pounds sterling (roughly $20,000), and smiles are more likely to produce a better short-term high than either sex or shopping!
So if your credit cards are maxing out – try smiling! If you’re too hooked on chocolate – find something or someone to elicit a smile from you! Dogs always work for me. Of course so do flower, sunsets and Carol Burnett re-runs.
But here’s the thing. We’re not talking New Age feel-good stuff here. Smiling has well-documented physiological impact on your mind and body. For example, neurotransmitters relay messages to your body on how to respond and react, given various situations. Dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitters, are all released from your brain into your body when you smile. Not only do these neurotransmitters relax you, and make you feel better emotionally, but they can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure – two significant contributors to your physical well-being. The very act of smiling makes us feel better, all around.
Children smile way more than adults do – the number most commonly given is 400 times a day. As compared to the happy adults 40-50 smiles per day, and average adults 20 smiles per day. Now you may say, well, gee, kids have a lot less worries, and thus a lot more to smile about. True. But just like anything else, you can get better at smiling with practice.
No, I don’t mean to affix a phony smile to your face. You can’t fool your brain, it knows the difference between the real thing and a fake. Rather, I mean to become more conscious about the many opportunities to smile that you now may let go by un-noticed.
You might think of it as smiling-mindfulness. Because that’s really what it is. Becoming more mindful of occasions that – for you – genuinely merit a smile, and allowing yourself to indulge in that very life-enhancing act.
For example, the barista hands you your coffee: add a smile to your “thanks.” As a matter of course, any time you say “thanks” or “thank you,” add a smile! That includes when you thank spouses, significant others, children and other family members: too often we forget to smile at those closest to us.
Or, the sky is dotted with little puffy clouds, a sight which pleases you: smile. Someone’s yard is awash in white roses, your fav: smile. The traffic eased up: smile! There are a gazillion opportunities to smile each and every day.
You may never make it up to the children’s’ 400-smiles-per-day mark, but for sure, your body and mind will most decidedly benefit from your increased smiles. What could be better?