By Dr. Noelle Nelson
Babies smile. Winners smile. 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.
All this you already know, but did you know that smiles are good for your health? 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: participants who were shown a smiling child produced the same level of mood-enhancement stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars and 16,000 pounds sterling (roughly $20,000). Researchers found that smiles are more likely to produce a better short-term high than either sex or shopping.
Smiling has well-documented physiological impact on your mind and body too. 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 more than adults do – the number most commonly given is 400 times a day. Happy adults smile 40 to 50 times per day while average adults smile 20 times. You may say 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.
You might think of it as smiling-mindfulness. Become more mindful of occasions that – for you – genuinely merit a smile, and allow 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 “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.
Affixing a phony smile to your face doesn’t count. You can’t fool your brain. It knows the difference between the real thing and a fake. Rather, become more conscious about the many opportunities to smile that now go unnoticed.
You may never make it to the children’s 400-smiles-per-day mark, but your body and mind will most decidedly benefit from your increased smiles.
Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D. is a California-based psychologist and author of over a dozen books. She is the author of “Happy Healthy…Dead: Why What You Think You Know About Aging Is Wrong and How To Get It Right” (MindLab Publishing). Visit www.noellenelson.com, https://www.facebook.com/MeetTheAmazings,
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