‘A smile is worth a thousand words’, but what is a smile and what does it mean if you can’t smile?
The Oxford Dictionary defines a smile as “a facial expression characterised by an upturning of the corners of the mouth, usually showing amusement, friendliness etc”
A smile can also be defined as a form of non-verbal form of communication. If we are smiled at, we instinctively smile back. From a smile we can get a sense of what a person is feeling, or even what they are thinking. But is there more to a smile than a pleasant expression on our face?
Is there more to a smile than a pleasant expression on our face?
The results of a study recently published in Psychological Science, the journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggest that a smile can influence our physical state. In the study, the researchers recruited 169 participants of university age. The study involved two phases: training and testing. During the training phase the participants were split into three groups and were trained to hold chopsticks in their mouth in such a way that they engaged facial muscles to create a neutral face or a standard smile. Only half of the group members were actually instructed to smile.
During the testing phase, participants were asked to work on multi-tasking activities, which were designed to be stressful. The researchers measured the participant’s heart rate and self-reported stress levels throughout.
The results showed that those who were instructed to smile, had a lower heart rate after recovery from the stressful activities, compared to those who held neutral facial expressions. We can see from this experiment that smiling has health benefits.
Other times, we as humans ‘grin’ especially when we are in pain or when we hear something funny and we are not sure if we can laugh out loud. Charles Darwin once suggested that facial expressions indicate the intention of animals. In his explanation as to why animals ‘smile’, he suggested that when an animal bears its teeth, it is as a warning to other animals. He also believed that we, as humans, adopted this behaviour as a greeting, although it is not always easy to tell if a person is genuinely smiling or not.
There is more to a smile than a pretty face
There are many advantages in performing this basic human instinct. Below are 10 reasons to smile;
- It makes you attractive. Have you noticed that if you are in a room full of people you are immediately drawn to the person who is smiling rather than to the one who is scowling or frowning?
- It changes your mood. Next time you are in a bad mood try turning that frown upside down. You will be amazed as to how you can change your mood just by smiling.
- It is contagious. Smiling in a room full of frowning people can often change others mood and lighten up the atmosphere.
- It relieves stress. Stress can often be seen on our face and a smile, can help you from looking tired, worn out, and overwhelmed.
- It boosts your immune system by lowering your stress levels and allowing certain anti-bodies or immune cells to increase.
- It lowers your blood pressure. Many studies have shown high blood pressure is one of the leading causes of strokes. When we smile our blood pressure drops below normal levels and the change in our breathing pattern allows more oxygen and nutrients to flow through our body.
- Smiling releases endorphins, which is a natural pain-killer and serotonin which when combined makes us feel happier and good with ourselves.
- Smiling lifts the face and makes you look younger by using muscles around the face, which gives the illusion of a younger looking face.
- Smiling makes you seem successful. Smiling also has emotional benefits. If you smile at people, you will appear not only confident, but approachable. The more you smile the more people will react differently towards you.
- Smiling helps you feel positive.
What appears to be the general consensus here is that smiling or grinning appears to be good for you.
The Japanese Keihin Electric Express Railway Company used a high tech scanning smile computer programme, to make sure that every morning its 500 employees showed that they were pleased to see the customers. This was achieved by taking a picture of the employee smiling and sending it to the computer program which would analyse the employee’s smile and send back tips as to how to make the ideal smile. According to Psychology Today a Japanese company called Omron has sold several hundred devices call a Smile-scan to those in the Japanese service industry. But is this a true smile?
There is one school of thought that states that a smile not only come from the mouth but also from the muscle around the eye and the fake smile comes from the facial muscle only. This is often known as the polite smile or the Pan Am Smile.
Mother Teresa once said ‘Every time you smile at someone it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.’ We would add that by smiling when you don’t feel like it, you are giving yourself the best possible gift.
So the next time you feel depressed remember to smile, it is best way of brightening up your day.