How Smiling Affects Your Sense of Well-Being
How many times do you think you smile each day?
An estimated one-third of the population smile twenty times or more and children can smile several hundred times every day.
Smiling is an important way to communicate our emotions to others and for many of us it is a subconscious response, reflecting how we feel to the outside world. It is also an expression of a healthy emotion, namely happiness. There has been a lot of research into how smiling affects your sense of well-being and how it positively stimulates emotional feedback in the brain.
Charles Darwin’s Theory
Charles Darwin may have developed the theory of evolution, but he also wrote about many other topics, one of which is the Facial Feedback Response theory. While Darwin is well known for his investigations into biological sciences, he also contributed tremendously towards our understanding of psychology. As a scientist Darwin was well aware that humans and other animals show emotion including fear, anger, surprise, sadness and of course happiness.
He believed that the facial muscles could create a core set of just a few emotions and used what were groundbreaking experiments at the time to prove this.
In his Facial Feedback Response theory, he talked about how freedom of expression of an emotion, for example through smiling, helps to intensify it. On the other hand, repressing this emotion helps to soften it.
When we can express our emotions through smiling then we begin to feel good because our brain will actually sense when the muscles responsible for smiling are being used. As a result, feedback to the brain informs it that we must be happy so even if you smile when you don’t feel happy, facial feedback to your brain helps to improve your mood. So, how can this affect you in the real world?
Why Not Try It out for Yourself?
When you are next feeling out of sorts or slightly down in the dumps, try smiling at a friend or loved one. The chances are that they will smile back, and you will notice that it helps to enhance your mood. You can even try smiling when you are on your own and not feeling particularly happy. Using your facial muscles to create a real smile where your eyes crinkle up will probably help to improve your mood, even just a little. It’s worth trying even if you feel a little silly as after all no one will see you. It is even more effective when you smile into a mirror.
You can even use this technique to help other people feel better, for example by trying to make a friend or colleague smile by telling them a joke or funny anecdote or by simply being cheerful. Still not convinced?
Smiling Stimulates Reward Mechanisms in the Brain (It’s More Effective Than Chocolate!)
For most of us chocolate is a bit of a guilty pleasure but eating it is well known for helping to produce that feel good factor.
What if there was something completely calorie-free and which didn’t harm your teeth, but which had exactly the same effect?
Well there is, and it’s the power of your smile. Scientific research has shown smiling is more rewarding than eating chocolate, stimulating the feel good sensors in the brain in exactly the same way but without the unwanted side-effects. You’d experience the same kind of feel good emotions if someone gave you a large sum of money.
Why You Can’t Fake a Genuine Smile
Humans are experts at detecting a fake smile and it’s something we do quite subconsciously. Generally, a fake smile will not involve the eyes. When a smile is genuine then the facial muscles work in specific ways, notably causing a crinkling of crow’s feet around the eyes in what’s called a Duchenne smile. Yet another study in 1989 investigated the emotional effect of making a genuine smile. During the study a psychologist, Robert Zajonc made subjects repeat certain vowel sounds which caused particular facial expressions.
When making the long “e” sound, participants mimicked the characteristics of a smile because this sound causes the corners of the mouth to move outwards. The psychologist also tested other vowel sounds in particular the long “u” sound which forces the mouth into a pout. People reported that they felt good after making the long “e” sound but felt less positive after making the long “u” sound. Following this logic, it would be better for your well-being to smile than pout for selfies!
The Physiological Effects of Smiling
This research was significant because it examined the physiological effects of smiling looking at the effect it has on the flow of blood to the brain. Most blood flow is delivered via the internal carotid artery that flows through what is called the cavernous sinus and which contains many veins.
When you smile, the facial muscles tighten and stretch, constricting these veins and reducing the amount of blood reaching the cavernous sinus.
This in turn reduces the amount of blood passing through the carotid artery on the way to the brain. The effect is to reduce the temperature of the blood flowing to the brain, resulting in a lower brain temperature which helps to trigger that sense of well-being. The reverse happens when you frown because this increases the blood flow, resulting in a warmer brain. But, what happens if you don’t feel you can smile freely?
What Happens If You Suppress a Smile?
Researchers have delved into what happens in the brain when you suppress the action of smiling, by testing the way facial injectables for wrinkle smoothing can affect feelings. They did this by using facial injections (botulinum toxin) to suppress people’s ability to smile freely and discovered this prevented that feel good feeling we have due to emotional feedback in the brain.
This shows how important it is to have the confidence to smile freely and the potentially positive effect it can have on your sense of well-being.
Incidentally, it’s also worth noting that when properly applied, Botox injections do not prevent people from smiling! However, it does highlight the fact that not everybody feels able or is willing to smile and as a result they may be missing out on that sense of well-being that so important and which everyone should be able to experience.
While it might not be possible to avoid feeling sad, trying to create a natural looking smile can make you feel more positive. Unfortunately, all too often people with less than perfect teeth will feel unable to smile whenever they wish because they feel so self-conscious. As a result, they will miss out on that sense of well-being that we all deserve and need to gain the very most out of life. People who can’t begin creating meaningful relationships through smiling may miss out on meeting their life partner or their dream career.
One possible treatment that can help is to consider cosmetic dentistry with a good Dubai dentist and although this might not immediately make you feel more cheerful, it can give you the confidence to smile. Smiling is such an important human emotion that it is something that everybody should be able to express, whenever and wherever they wish.