~ Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D.
There’s nothing like humor to make you feel better. A big laugh is one of the best feelings in the world. I’ve even written a post aboutlaughter is the best medicine, but what about smiling? Is smiling good for your body and mental health?
I’ve always thought so…I have always been a big fan of smiling and even made up a “Smile Theory” long before I’d ever thought of having kids or being a Zen Mama. While I was in high school I thought that when your brain is happy, you smile. I figured that the reverse must true then, too. If you’re unhappy or depressed and you smile, then you should make your brain happy.
So, I decided to do a little research to see if my theory is true.
First I checked out the saying “It takes less muscles to smile than to frown”. According to The Straight Dope that not’s true! Even though there are many muscles in the face, it takes about only about 12 to smile and 11 to frown. (for more information Does it take fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown?) I still like the old research that it takes 26 muscles to smile and 62 to frown!!
I came across the Duchenne smile when I was researching the smile muscles. The Duchenne smile is named after French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne. He conducted smile experiments back in the mid 19th century. The name “Duchenne smile” has come to represent the name used for a real smile, a smile that is found in the eyes. When you smile a Duchenne smile you use the “zygomatic muscles” in your cheeks. This in turn activates the “crow’s-feet” or the “orbicularis oculi” muscles by your eyes. This is what sets off all the smile benefits. And even a fake Duchenne smile can kindle the benefits of smiling. Try a Duchenne smile for 18 seconds and you will activate happiness.
Smiling, Like Laughter, Has Many Health Benefits
• It boosts the immune system. It decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection fighting antibodies.
• Smiling releases endorphins the body’s natural pain killers. Endorphins also make you feel more relaxed and enhance your mood.
• Smiling lowers your blood pressure by improving blood flow and helps to prevent heart disease and strokes.
• Smiling lowers stress by relaxing body with a flow of oxygen to the muscles. It decreases stress hormones. The main stress hormone is Cortisol. Cortisol is produced during the highest levels of stress in the adrenal gland. Too much cortisol can weaken the immune systems and cause memory loss.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
~Thict Nhat Hahn
Mindful smiling is like a gentle Buddha smile. Taoist Master Mantak Chia explains that “in ancient China, the Taoists taught that a constant inner smile to oneself insured health, happiness and longevity. Why? Smiling to yourself is like basking in love: you become your own best friend. Living with an inner smile is to live in harmony with yourself.” Many meditate with a smile on their face. Try this smiling meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh while sitting or walking:
Let us enjoy our breathing.
Breathing in–I feel I am alive.
Breathing out–I smile to life.
To Life…smiling to life
Try it right now with a subtle Mona Lisa smile. Close your eyes and breathe in deeply through your nose like smelling a flower. When I do this, I instantly have a feeling of inner peace.
Smiling Connects Us With Others
People are attracted to happy people. No one wants to be around someone who is always talking about their problems. Research tells us that happy people are more successful as well!
“Peace begins with a smile.”
“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”
“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”
“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”
“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
I think I found my research to be a success! I feel so great after writing about smiling because I’ve had a Duchenne smile or a mindful smile on my face the whole time. So take two smiles and call me in the morning!
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photo from kidport.com