You've heard the old saying... "Smile and the world smiles with you; cry and you cry alone." You may not know the original quote penned in Ella Wheeler's poem Solitude in 1883: "Laugh and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone."More than a century later, it's more than poetic prose. We actually have science to back it up.
There is actually science behind your smile, too. The mere act of smiling reduces blood pressure, lowers stress hormones, and boosts your mood. Research out of the UK even found that one smile generates the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.
It's actually a cool cycle of happy hormones. When our brains feel happy, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins are produced and neuronal signals are transmitted to your facial muscles to trigger a smile. When our smiling muscles contract, they fire a signal back to the brain, stimulating our reward system, and further increasing our level of happy hormones.
Both smiling and laughing have been studied for centuries. Guillaume Duchenne was a French neurologist who studied laughter and smiling in the 1800s. He discovered that two facial muscles are engaged during smiling. One is the zygomatic major which controls the corners of our mouth. We can activate this muscle at will. (Admit it... you just smiled, didn't you?) The other is the orbicularis oculi, which controls the muscles around our eyes. It's impossible to activate these muscles without engaging the mouth muscles. That means, only with a genuine laugh or smile, what has now been dubbed a Duchenne smile, are both our mouth and eyes engaged.
What’s really crazy is that just the physical act of smiling can boost your immunity. When you smile, the brain sees the muscles activate and assumes that you are experiencing joy or amusement. In a sense, the brain is a sucker for a grin. It doesn’t bother to figure whether you’re smiling because you’re genuinely joyous our you’re just pretending.
Even if you force a smile, you’ll feel better. While it might not be a natural Duchenne smile, you can in fact make yourself feel better simply by forcing a smile. Interestingly, a small British study even suggested those who used BOTOX which physically manipulated their smile muscles felt happier.
And, have you ever noticed that it's almost impossible not to smile at someone who smiles at you? It's called emotional contagion and it's facilitated by an interconnected network of cells that make up the mirror neuron system. Emotional contagion is what helped our ancestors understand each other in a time before language. It enabled them to recognize fear, for example, and helped them survive potential danger.
The mirror neuron system works like a high-definition camera that records micro-expressions, body language, pupil movements and vocal tones. When someone smiles at you, your mirror neuron system detects it and then signals your brain to mimic that smile.
No Sense of Humor is No Laughing Matter
Those who smile and laugh often may have longer lives than those that don’t. A 15-year Norwegian study published in April of 2016 found that women with strong senses of humor lived longer than others. In fact, they were 73% less likely to die from heart disease and 83% less likely to die from infection. Men with a better sense of humor seemed to be more protected from infection only, with 74% less risk of death associated with high scores in humor.
Despite all of these benefits, somewhere along the way we learned to smile less. In general, adults smile one tenth as often as children. Maybe it's all of the stress of having a job and caring for others and managing other responsibilities that make us forget the importance of smiling and being happy. But, what if you knew that smiling more will make you and others around you feel better and a little smarter, too?
Well, now you know. So, give it a try. Smile at random people at least 10 times today and see what happens. Even with a mask on, a genuine smile shows up in your eyes. Your brain will thank you and you'll be making the world a little happier. And who can't use that?