By Kiera Olson
Don’t worry, be happy! We’ve all heard this phrase before, but as many of you know it is much easier said than done. However, what many people don’t know is the truth and importance behind this famous motto. Smiling has a powerful effect on our brain and lives. In fact, it has been called “the world’s most powerful gesture.” Not only can smiling can help us live longer, but it will make also us happier, and it is contagious.
Smiling can help to prolong the length of one’s life through many different methods. In fact “happy” people are 35% more likely to live up to 10 years longer than a more serious or anxious person of the same profession, given the same environment and similar genetic make-up. This is due in part to several factors. When you smile, your brain releases a stream of neuropeptides which cause high serum cortisol levels and other stress-induced hormone levels to decrease. This will help to lower your anxiety levels, promoting a greater physical and mental health. Additionally, smiling will cause the number of white blood cells in your body to rise. These necessary cells defend the body from foreign parasites and fight against diseases. A low white blood cell count has been traced as a leading cause of cancer and many other deadly diseases. Therefore by smiling, we are able to boost our immune system, increasing its ability to work more efficiently and productively against unwanted invaders.
Not only does smiling allow one to live longer, but it also makes our lives happier. While it is often custom or natural to smile when one experiences emotions of joy, it can work the other way as well. When we smile, 17 muscles in our face move, prompting your brain to release neuropeptides throughout your body. In turn, the freeing of these neuropeptides discharges three different neurotransmitters. The first of these is dopamine, which helps your memory, allowing for the slowing of one’s heart rate and lowering of blood pressure. The second neurotransmitter is endorphin. Much like morphine, endorphin functions in cooperation with opiate receptors, which are found in the brain. In turn, this will help to lower the perceived amount of pain we are feeling. Luckily, unlike morphine, which is a drug, endorphin is a 100% natural pain killer, resulting from the simple act of smiling. Additionally, smiling will trigger the release of serotonin. The majority of this neurotransmitter is found in the gastrointestinal tract, working as an anti-depressant by controlling your mood, bowel movements, and even sleep activity. Hence, the more a person is to smile, the more able his or her body is to take care of simple bodily functions. This can explain why smiling has been compared to getting a good night’s sleep. With these positive effects produced from the three released neurotransmitters, a person is able to immediately feel a sense of happiness to a certain degree, no matter his or her previous state of mind.
While many people, especially adults, aren’t constantly smiling due to the different stresses and worries of life, they can still receive these possible benefits. This is mainly due to the fact that smiling is contagious. Eliciting such an emotion occurs in the cingulate cortex, the part of your brain responsible for smiling. As it is an unconscious, automatic response area, if you smile at someone, his or her cingulate cortex will naturally mimic your smile, causing him or her to smile back at you. Now at this point, you may remember a time you smiled at someone, and he/she didn’t smile back. It certainly has happened for me before too. In such cases, however, the individual has to make a conscious effort to not return the smile and instead scowl, as the cingulate cortex would naturally mimic your smile. This means adults actively avoid smiling countless times a day, as on average, children smile 400 times per day, while for adults it’s only 20. The numbers are even more frightening if you’re male, as it’s considered more socially acceptable for women to smile than men to smile. However, this doesn’t mean men are any worse off than women, as studies show women are more likely to fake a smile. In such cases, our brain can distinguish between a real and fake smile, by mimicking the faces and smiles of others. By copying the extent of the smile, our brain will be able to understand whether it experiences the feeling of joy, qualifying it as a real smile. Unfortunately, if it is a fake smile, neither your brain nor body will experience any of the previously mentioned benefits of smiling. Therefore, like little orphan Annie said, “You are never fully dressed without a smile.”
Smiling can have a profound impact on both our bodies and our lives. It make us happier and even allows us to live longer. For those who don’t consider themselves a natural, smiley person, surround yourself with those who are, as smiling is contagious. Who knows, a simple real smile, might even help you through