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Not to long ago I was driving around on a Saturday, running errands, and I came across the TED Talk Radio Hour, and Ron Gutman was giving a talk on “The Hidden Power of Smiling”. It was really short, just over 7 minutes, but the subject matter was very powerful, and prompted me to buy Mr. Gutman’s short book Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act.
The book was very straightforward and a quick read. Albeit it slightly monotonous at times, there was some very interesting information about smiling that made me want to research it a bit more. Turns out, the power of a smile is pretty darn, well, powerful!
The Biology of a Smile
Really great things happen in our brain when we smile. And we don’t have to be coaxed to smile by something or someone for this good feeling. Seriously, just paste a poop-eating grin on your face right now as you read this paragraph, you’ll start to feel it.
When you smile neuropeptides are released that counter the production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Your body also releases dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. Hello happiness! These chemicals also work to lower your stress and blood pressure.
Also, we use smiles from others to judge how they are doing emotionally. There are several different types of smiles, and it turns out our brains can differentiate them, and give us feedback as to when someone is smiling due to happiness, as opposed to say nerves, or just to be polite.
Why yes, I was cracking myself up while taking these photos. These happened right after I took the crazy eyes photo shown in the middle at top of this post. And it felt great!
The Rewards of a Smile
In Ron Gutman’s talk and book, he sites studies that showed one smile can have the same affect on your brain as up to 2,000 bars of premium chocolate, or finding up to 25,000 in cold hard cash! I know it seems like that can’t be true, but that’s science baby.
As mentioned above, smiling releases a rush of good chemicals in your brain. This increases mood, and relaxes your body. Heart rate decreases, blood pressure is lowered, and natural pain killers in the form or endorphins are released. When your body is relaxed, your immune system can work more efficiently. Plus smiling gives you a natural face lift!
Using Smiling as a Tool
Ron Gutman started his quest to learn about the effects of smiling by looking at a 30-year longitudinal study at UC Berkeley that examined the smiles of students in an old yearbook. These students were measured for their well-being and success throughout their lives. Funny thing; the students with the widest smiles ranked highest in lasting marriages, scores on standardized tests, and general well-being and happiness.
He also followed a study on baseball players, pertaining to the smiles in pictures on their baseball cards. The more beaming the smile, the longer the life. No joke.
Smiling can be very disarming. Our minds actually process it as a reward when we see another person smiling at us. And we also view people as more attractive when they smile. So that means that when you smile at people they find you more attractive, are more likely to trust you and find you reliable, and are also likely to view you as relaxed and sincere.
Think about the implications of this when you’re in an important scenario, like a job interview, or when you’re trying to get that grant money for a non-profit you support. Smiling can make a big difference in your success.
So when a stranger smiles, smile back. When your child laughs, you laugh to. Or better yet, YOU initiate the smiles. Because it makes you look better on the outside, and definitely makes you feel better within.