Smiles can be magical. We can exchange this universally recognised gesture even with people who don’t share our language. Shared smiles strengthen our relationships and our sense of belonging.
We all know that being on the receiving end of even a brief smile can sometimes make our day. But did you also know that the act of smiling brings a whole host of immediate mental and physical benefits for the person doing it?
According to brain training expert Catalina Hoffmann, it releases oxytocin, one of the so-called ‘happiness hormones’. When you’re feeling low, you may have to force a smile, but, she says, it will lift your mood straight away.
Studies have shown that putting a smile on your face has many other powers, too.
Thanks to the release of neuropeptides — tiny proteins that can help lessen stress - it can help you to deal with difficult situations.
On the physical side, it increases our endurance, while reducing how much effort we feel we are making. A study found that runners used less energy when they deliberately smiled during their run. They also reported a lower perceived effort than when they frowned. That’s something worth considering for anyone heading to the gym.
Better still, perhaps, smiling can lessen the amount of pain we feel.
The movement of the facial muscles involved prompts the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. It has been shown that those who managed to smile while receiving a flu-jab type injection felt only half the pain of those who did not.
Smiling can also reduce blood pressure.
Psychiatrist Chris Norris explains that, after initially increasing the heart rate, it has the effect of relaxing the heart muscle, eventually decreasing both heart rate and blood pressure.
This wonderful gesture can even strengthen the immune system, by raising the levels of both immune cells and antibodies.
When you take all these benefit into account, it seems that smiling could actually help you live longer. And that’s one very good reason to smile.