With luck, the smiley lady in the picture will have made you smile in return, because smiling is reflexive – we instinctively mirror other people’s smiles as a way to test how genuine we think they are. If you did smile, the simple act of doing so should have made you feel just a little bit better than you did a minute ago. Even better, it should have triggered some microscopic internal changes that should have decreased your stress levels and might even help you to live a little longer. And to anyone watching, you should immediately have appeared better-looking and more competent.
That’s a lotta good stuff from a simple twitch of a few facial muscles.
I started to think about smiles as I was researching last week’s post about eye behavior, when I read that when we hold another person’s gaze, we could be signaling love, fascination, a threat, or hatred – we tell the difference by using secondary facial cues. It felt right. Nothing telegraphs great chemistry better than a shared glance followed by a warm, intimate smile.
If you have seven and a half minutes to spare, you might enjoy this TED talk by healthcare entrepreneur Ron Gutman, called The Hidden Power of Smiling. It’s packed with good stuff, but my favorite line is that British researchers found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.
If you don’t have seven and a half minutes to spare, my takeaway from Mr. Gutman’s talk and a few other helpful papers I found online are:
Smiling makes us feel good because it stimulates our brain reward mechanism. It triggers the release of serotonin in our brain, increases the level of mood-enhancing hormones like endorphins, and reduces the level of stress-increasing hormones like adrenaline, dopamine and cortisol.
The feelgood chemical changes brought on by smiling are also good for our health because they relax our body and can lower our heart rate and blood pressure. The endorphins also act as a natural pain reliever and the serotonin as an anti-depressant/mood lifter – and not a prescription in sight.
Smiling makes other people feel good. Seeing an attractive smiling face activates the area in the brain that processes sensory rewards – another person smiles at us, and we feel rewarded.
Smiling is contagious. As part of a wider study in Uppsala, Sweden, subjects were shown pictures of smiling faces and were asked to frown. They reported that it took a conscious effort to receive a smile and return a frown.
Smiley people are perceived to be more competent, according to a study at Penn State
Smiley people appear better-looking and more attractive, according to a 2011 study by researchers at the Face Research Lab at the University of Aberdeen. Both men and women were more attracted to images of people who made eye contact and smiled than people who did not.
So here’s my thought for today: if you want to write convincing happy, healthy, attractive, long-lived, competent characters, you could do a lot worse than to give them a great smile.
Even better, writing about them, and reading about them, will make you smile, too, and that can only be a good thing.
Share a little good mojo with other 8LW-ers today. What (or who) makes you smile?