Smile! It’s Good For You!

I am a smiler. Walking down the street, I’m usually the first to break into a smile as I pass a stranger. Under my photo in my high school yearbook it says, “Best Smile.” Smiling is such a natural reflex for me that when I do feel depressed, I notice the heaviness in the corners of my mouth right away. That’s how I know something’s not right in my brain: my smile turns upside down.

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Smile and the whole world smiles with you.

And so I was intrigued to read that smiling, even fake smiling, can actually change your mood. Yes, there is scientific evidence now to support this. Try it for yourself: next time you’re feeling out of sorts, grab a pen or pencil and stick it in your teeth horizontally, like you’re a dog carrying a newspaper to your master (or in this household, a rabbit with a whole carrot that he’s just stolen from the fridge). This forces your facial muscles into the semblance of a smile. And here’s what will happen:

The simple act of smiling sends a message to your brain that you’re happy. And when you’re happy, your body pumps out feel-good endorphins. Your body will slow its breathing and heart rate, reducing anxiety. This reaction has been studied numerous times since the 1980s and has been proven again and again.

You’ll probably feel ridiculous with that pen in your mouth, and you might start to laugh. This is great! Have you ever laughed without smiling? It’s impossible. Numerous studies have been done on the health benefits of laughing, including how it acts like a mini workout that burns calories and works the abs. Laughter also helps blood flow, lowers blood sugar levels, reduces stress, and improves sleep. It may also raise the level of antibodies in the body, which helps boost the immune system.

Remember the Nat King Cole song, Smile? Check out these lyrics, and see if they don’t match up with the scientific research:

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

Satchmo knows what's good for ya!

Satchmo knows what’s good for ya!

And smiling helps others, as well. “When you’re smilin’, the whole world smiles with you,” sang Louis Armstrong (who had one of the best smiles ever!). Research shows that smiling is contagious. Something as simple as seeing a friend smile can activate the muscles in your face to make that same expression, without you even being aware that you are doing it.

Have you ever noticed that the Buddha is often represented in statues with a slight smile? It is said that his smile holds the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows of the world. That’s how powerful it is. Smiling can help you hold whatever emotions, thoughts, or sensations you are feeling. Think of it as a big bowl that can contain it all.

If holding the pen in your mouth is making you drool, then just close your eyes and simply imagine the curved shape of a smile. Let the image spread into your eyes, feeling the corners of the eyes soften. Let it melt any tension around your mouth and jaw. Feel the smile shape spreading its warmth into your chest and heart. Let the natural rhythm of your breath relax you. When you open your eyes, you might notice that you actually are smiling. Let it shine.

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