We all know that smiling is a natural response to feeling happy. Even blind babies smile — which many take to mean that our smiles are innate responses to emotion, rather than learned gestures. It’s clear that happiness causes smiling, but have you heard that the opposite works, too? Research indicates that smiling can also cause happiness, and not just in the person who is doing the smiling!
Smiling Can Trick Your Brain
When you smile, whether you feel happy or not, the use of those specific muscles sends a message to your brain. That message is sent in the form of the release of neuropeptides, which are molecules that enable communication between your neurons. Neuropeptides are what enable your brain to send your body messages about the feelings you’re experiencing (such as happiness, sadness, excitement, and anger.)
More specifically, smiling releases dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. All of those compounds are “feel good” compounds. They lower your blood pressure and heart rate, lift your mood, and even act as a natural pain reliever.
It might feel unnatural to smile when you don’t feel happy, but the impact on your brain could actually improve your mood. So next time you’re feeling down, try forcing a smile for a while. It turns out “fake it ‘til you make it” might actually have an effect!
Your Smile Can Benefit Others, Too
But it isn’t just your mood that can be improved by smiling! Flashing your pearly whites could help lift others’ spirits, too. In one recent study, students’ stress levels were measured to see how they correlated with the smiles they observed from evaluators.
For the purposes of the study, there were a few different types of smiles. An “affiliation” smile demonstrated camaraderie, and showed the recipient that the smiler isn’t a threat. Affiliation smiles don’t show the teeth, and are used to show a bond between the smiler and the recipient. A “reward” smile is a big, flashy smile that communicates to the recipient that they have made you happy. You may smile a reward smile after someone tells a joke you find funny, or gives you a gift.
Both of these kinds of smiles reduced the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the students who received them. However, there’s a third kind of smile that made students more stressed: A “dominance” smile, which is used to convey status, increased levels of cortisol in the students who viewed it. This type of smile is usually asymmetrical, and may be described as a “smirk.”
The takeaway seems to be that our intuition allows us to recognize when a smile is genuine, and those genuine smiles make us feel good.
All in all, the research makes it clear: Smiling is good for everybody! Unfortunately, some people are embarrassed by flaws in their smile, which may prevent them from flashing an endorphin-triggering grin. If you’re ready to have a smile you can be proud to show off, you need an experienced cosmetic dentist.