All lifetimes are made up of smiles. While it is easy to categorize the smile as an expression of joy, I’d argue that it is so much more…
It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words - a smile can be worth a thousand more. Think about it… You smile at a friend to say so many things at once. You smile at a dog because although they might not have a clue what you mean by it, you want them to know they’re just absolutely perfect. You smile with a flush thinking about a new love interest, just out of warmth. I could go on forever, but the point is – a smile is a dynamic, powerful expression.
In thinking about this phenomenon, I began to question how smiling might affect my overall well-being.
“If our mind, body + soul are connected, does this form of wordless communication (a smile) impact or play a role in our mental and physical health?”
According to one study done by researchers in the Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit (CRNU), participants’ interpretations of facial expressions were altered depending on whether they had a relaxed, straight face or held a smile when observing them. CRNU noticed that those who viewed neutral facial expressions while holding a smile interpreted these faces as happy. In short… our bodies’ expressions can have the power to impact our perception of those around us. (Sorry resting b*tch face.)
So, what if you decided to lead your life with a smile?
Coming from someone who has had their bouts with anxiety, I know this advice sounds like putting a band-aid over a deep wound. While smiling might not fix all of life’s problems, the science behind the often irritating advice to “just smile” is actually quite compelling.
According to Psychology Today, the act of smiling releases neuropeptides, which contribute to fighting stress. Furthermore, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin neurotransmitters, which impact your body’s stress and happiness levels, are released as well. This chemical reaction caused by a simple facial expression is responsible for managing the stress in your body + mind, which can show itself in your mental health, digestion and complexion.
So… simply smiling may unlock a box of hormonal goodies that can help ease my anxiety and even lead to lower inflammation and stress?
All the small choices we make – exercising, practicing mindfulness, eating clean, soaking up the sun (with SPF on of course) and even smiling just a bit more – can make a difference. Practicing small acts of self-love, whatever they may be and however they make you grin, gives your body a reason to release tension.
Learn more about inflammation and it's impact on skin health here.
While finding a reason to smile when your car’s air conditioning is broken or your finances are less than stable seems irrelevant, looking at the bigger picture might help take the edge off. While life is hard, a learning process and unpredictable, there is great beauty in our ability to handle the journey... especially if you can do it with a smile.
Whether you make the effort to smile more for your mental health or are just searching for a few extra endorphins, make it a point to do it. I don’t care if it’s a teethless grin that says “I’m fine” or a smile that would scream-cry to URJA’s Spotify playlist — just make it count. And while you’re at it, please give one of those smiles to yourself in the mirror. You’ll get a grin back.
Seriously, try it.
*Written by: Leila Grant