Hi, I'm Nora Gehin! I'm a student at UW-Madison currently studying Journalism & Mass Communication. I also write for a top tech company. I enjoy enlightening the world with my writing.

How smiling can change your life… and prevent permanent down face

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Behind Your Smile
Flickr - Ramesh NG

People are always looking for the next miraculous product to make them more attractive. They will use different makeup products, magical diet pills, hair extensions, tanning booths, and in extreme cases, plastic surgery. But it turns out there’s something right under your nose, literally, that can improve your appearance. And it’s even free. Did you figure it out yet? It’s your smile.

Research has been conducted on smiling for over two centuries now. This research has found that not only does smiling make you more attractive, it also has many other personal and social benefits.

We had a guest speaker come in my senior year of high school. He discussed having a positive attitude and the connection between your brain and smiling and I couldn’t believe all the benefits he discussed. Ever since then, I have been reading books and articles on how to improve my life with a simple smile. After reading this article, I hope you all can improve at least one aspect of your life with the information I share.

First, I’m going to give a little background information on your smile, then I’m going to discuss the personal benefits of smiling and finally, I will discuss how these personal benefits can be shared with others and transferred into your social life.

The Research

As I said at the beginning, scientists, psychologists, and other researchers have been studying smiles since the 19th century. Over the years, researchers have discovered that there is quite a bit more to smiling than just lips and teeth.

The first major discovery is discussed in Allan and Barbara Pease’s book The Definitive Book of Body Language. French scientist Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne discovered there are two different muscles that control smiling. When a photographer tells you to say “cheese” you are using your consciously controlled zygomatic major muscles. These muscles produce a fake smile because they connect to the mouth. The muscles that pull back the eyes, or the orbicularis oculi muscles, are unconsciously controlled and these are the ones that can cause the dreaded “crow’s feet” but also are proof of a genuine smile.

According to the book Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex, and Politics, psychologists say smiling also depends on the intensity or size of the smile, the duration of the smile and the time it takes to appear on the face and disappear from the face. These factors are all used to study smiles and they can show what type of emotions that smiles are conveying, as smiles can be a sign of more than just happiness. Smiles can convey other emotions such as fear, nervousness, anxiety or embarrassment. Research has even been done on primates and humans (mostly children) that shows that if someone smiles while they’re embarrassed it can excuse their social mishap or smooth over the awkward situation.

All of this research led to a Facial Action Coding System (FACS) developed by
Professor Paul Ekman of the University of California and Dr. Wallace V. Friesen of the
University of Kentucky. This is a system that also studies the two major muscles to decipher fake smiles from genuine ones. It is also used in other studies about smiling such as why people do or do not smile while lying and how different emotions affect the appearance of smiles.

The Personal Benefits

Even though there’s all this research on whether smiles are genuine or not, a real smile or even a fake one can benefit one’s life in numerous ways. According to the article,”The Effects of Smiling and Frowning on Perceived Affect and Exertion while Physically Active”, faking an emotion can cause feelings of that emotion. Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, proved this when he performed a study with EEG
(electroencephalograph) machines that study brain-wave activity. His study showed that even if one isn’t happy, intentionally smiling promotes electrical activity in the “happy zone” of the brain.

This chemical activity, which produces endorphins, is very beneficial to your health. Endorphins are chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers. They also are the chemicals that affect emotions and can create a sense of well being. Studies have shown that people with more endorphins don’t get sick as often than those with less endorphins and could possibly even live longer.

Even seeing a smile for less than a second (four one thousandths of a second to be exact), can cause a situation called subliminal priming. This is when your brain doesn’t have time to consciously realize that it has seen a smile but the smile still produces the emotional high caused by endorphins. Subliminal priming causes food to taste better, music to sound better,
and in general a more positive perception of the world.

1. It Can Make You More Attractive

Also discussed in Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex, and Politics by Marianne LaFrance,, is that smiling can even make you more attractive. Smiling produces what researchers call a “halo effect”. A study was done where photos of identical people, one smiling and the other not, were judged by participants. Overall, the participants judged the people that were smiling as more attractive, kind and approachable
(among other good qualities). The halo effect also can make infants appear cuter and young children appear smarter as well.

2. Or Less Attractive…

And on the other hand, The Definitive Book of Body Language discusses how people who have a habit of not smiling can develop a “permanent down mouth”. Literally a person’s mouth develops a permanent frown and their mouth resembles that of a bull dog. Studies show people avoid “down mouths” and give them less eye contact.

The Social Benefits

Now that I have discussed the background information and personal benefits of smiling, I am going to continue by discussing the social benefits of smiling. The article, “The Effect of Smiling on Helping Behavior: Smiling and Good Samaritan Behavior” talks about how sharing a smile with someone promotes a positive mood in him or her. A study by Professor Ulf Dimberg at Uppsala University in Sweden showed that people mirror facial expressions unconsciously (even if the smiles aren’t genuine). When you smile at someone, they are most likely to smile as well producing the endorphins in their brain that I discussed earlier. This causes them to have a
positive mood not only towards you, but towards others and life in general.

LaFrance also writes in her book that smiles can be a conversation starter and make
you seem less intimidating. Psychologists have done studies that show people feel more comfortable around familiar things, such as a smile. This means that smiling makes people feel more comfortable around you and can make more people want to talk to you.

Now that I’ve discussed what’s behind those pearly whites and how they can benefit each and every one of you, I hope you all use it to your advantage. And why wouldn’t you? Who wouldn’t want to live a longer, happier life, surrounded by more people? After reading this article and learning all about the science behind your smile and the personal as well as social benefits, I hope you all incorporate a smile into your daily routine.

Like the famous Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh once said:

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”


Sources:
Gueguen, Nicolas, and De Gail Marie-Agnes. “The Effect of Smiling on Helping Behavior:
Smiling and Good Samaritan Behavior.”Communication Reports 16.2 (2003): 133-40.
ProQuest. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

LaFrance, Marianne. Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex, and
Politics. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2011. Print.

Pease, Allan, and Barbara Pease. The Definitive Book of Body Language. New York: Bantam,
2006. Print.

Philippen, Philipp B., et al. “The Effects of Smiling and Frowning on Perceived Affect and
Exertion while Physically Active.” Journal of Sport Behavior 35.3 (2012): 337-53.
ProQuest. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

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Hi, I'm Nora Gehin! I'm a student at UW-Madison currently studying Journalism & Mass Communication. I also write for a top tech company. I enjoy enlightening the world with my writing.

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