Say Cheese: The (Not-So-Cheesy) Health Benefits of Smiling
Smiling is good for you.
Smiles are contagious. They spread from person to person in the best way possible, always seeming to lighten the stress of the day just a little. A genuinely joyful smile is often said to light up a room. As researchers dig deeper into the science of smiling, however, it’s becoming strikingly clear that smiling doesn’t just make us feel better for a little while—it actually has a range of very real health benefits. Here are just a few of the health benefits of smiling that you should be aware of:
Smiling lowers your blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels.
Smiling is more than just skin deep—it has a direct effect on your brain. When you smile, your brain releases the feel-good chemicals dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, which help you relax and lowers your stress levels. As a result, it lowers your heart rate and your blood pressure. Interestingly, this holds true even if you’re faking a smile; the simple act of smiling, genuine or not, helps you to feel better.
It improves your mood and rewires your brain to think positively.
The release of feel-good chemicals in your brain also improves your mood—and not just in the short-term. When you make a habit of smiling often and being positive, it can have long-term effects — truly one of the health benefits of smiling (mood improvement). Your brain is naturally wired to be negative and to plan for the worst outcome; this kind of mindset was likely once essential to survival. Nowadays, however, it can help create a negative outlook on life and can contribute to higher levels of anxiety and depression. Thankfully, our brain is amazingly skilled at adapting. When you make a habit of smiling, it rewires your brain to begin thinking positively instead, creating what scientists call a “happiness loop.”
It releases tension in your cells.
Biochemist Sondra Barrett claims that your brain isn’t the only part of your body that benefits when you smile. According to her book Secrets of Your Cells, smiling affects your cells by making them less rigid. Barrett discusses the impact stress can have on your body, affecting the physical structure of your cells, and says reducing stress (and relaxing your cells) is incredibly important to your health.
Smiling boosts your immune system.
Studies have repeatedly proven that stress weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and illnesses. Fortunately, the opposite is true of smiling. Since it lowers your stress levels and helps you relax, it also helps strengthen your immune system. A stronger immune system is one of the health benefits of smiling.
It’s a natural pain reliever.
While it might sound strange, smiling and laughing works as a natural pain reliever. This effect is thanks to the endorphins that your brain releases when you smile or laugh. When you think about it, this does make sense—most of us have turned to a comedic show, book, or even a funny friend in order to lessen our pain. The benefits of smiling and laughing go a step farther, though—there’s evidence that laughter can actually increase your pain threshold. This means that you’re able to tolerate more pain when you’re happy.
Smiling might help you live longer.
A surprising number of studies have produced evidence that smiling often and living life with an optimistic outlook can actually help you to live longer. These studies indicate that happy people aren’t simply living longer because they’re less likely to die from unnatural causes, such as suicide, drugs, or alcohol—although that’s certainly true. They’re also less likely to die from natural causes. In fact, a study in 2005 even found that this difference didn’t disappear when the researchers accounted for demographic variables such as weight, initial health, and health practices.
This research doesn’t claim that happiness heals existing diseases—there’s no evidence for that at all—but there’s plenty of research to indicate that it can help prevent some health issues from occurring. The result is that positive people might live an average of seven years longer than other people!
It’s amazing to think how a simple change in attitude—even if it begins with a fake smile—can have such a massive and far-reaching effect on not just our brains, but on our entire bodies. So while there’s certainly a place and time for being serious, don’t be afraid to crack a smile and do your best to look on the bright side of things. At the very least, it’ll help you appreciate and enjoy each day more—and at the most, it may give you considerably more days to enjoy.