What’s In a Smile?

I really do love simple solutions. Things we can do for ourselves, which help us feel better. Especially in these days of restricted contact. After all, it’s the summer of 2020 and virtually the whole world has been affected by a pandemic since February. The end isn’t yet in sight. We need all the help we can give ourselves.

So what’s in a smile? It turns out … a lot! We can turn it up, and turn it on in a split second. It’s an instant pick-me-upper. I don’t feel like smiling, you say? Do it anyway. You will feel better. And if feeling better isn’t on your agenda, then do it to increase your creativity and your logical thinking!

Here’s what else we know about the simple gift of smiling.

It’s a two way street. Not only do we smile when we’re happy, we become happier when we smile. Your brain knows when the smile muscles are activated and can be ‘tricked’ into changing your chemical soup mix into one that has more ‘feel-good’ hormones  and neurotransmitters (like dopamine – the ‘reward’ hormone/neurotransmitter).

An experiment demonstrated this well. Three groups were shown cartoons. One group was holding a pencil in their mouth lengthwise, ‘forcing’ a smile. The second group held the pencil by the tip while pursing their lips, ‘forcing’ a sort of frown. The third group held the pencil in their hand. The first group rated the cartoons the funniest, the third group was somewhere in the middle and you guessed it – the second group with pursed lips rated the cartoons least funny.

Smiling also has a social consequence. When we smile, others around us tend to smile too. Even if our smile isn’t one of genuine happiness, we can feel better with smiling faces surrounding us! Read about the experience of Alex Lickerman, M.D., who, during his first year of medical school, found himself wondering why most people don’t smile at people they don’t know. He realized that in order to smile genuinely at someone, he first needed to have a ‘real’ feeling for them. For him, smiling at strangers became a small exercise in compassion. He stated in this article: “The benefit of smiling accrues to me as well as to those at whom I’m smiling, however: studies have also shown that feeling just as often follows expression. That is, when we smile, it actually makes us happier, even, it turns out, if our smile is forced.”

Do you need more reasons to smile more often? The research is pretty definitive – a happy worker is a more productive worker. (Research by  http://www.iopenerinstitute.com/) After building questionnaires, conducting focus groups and compiling results from 3,000 respondents in 79 countries, [the company’s] findings proved that happiness has a distinct advantage over unhappiness. “The happiest employees are 180% more energized than their less content colleagues, 155% happier with their jobs, 150% happier with life, 108% more engaged and 50% more motivated. Most staggeringly, they are 50% more productive too.”

Years ago my husband drew a frown on the ‘brow’ of a happy face stress ball (see the image). In meetings, when he was happy with the way things went, he didn’t have to say anything – he just held the ball up with the smiling face shining on everyone. When he wasn’t pleased with the way things were going, all he had to do was turn the ball ‘upside down’ to show the frown. He didn’t make it personal, he didn’t have to say a word. Each time he got a laugh from the group. Everyone knew this was a signal to start coming with new ideas. I must say, I still have this happy face ball on my desk. The frown is almost worn away but I’ve had to retouch the smile a few times with black magic marker …

Turn that frown upside down and what do you have? A smile!

Please share your comments and questions in the comments section below.

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