The Science of a Smile

Have you noticed how much better you can feel about life if you smile?  Some things simply cheer us up – daffodils in early Spring do it for me.  But what is it about smiles?  Why do they make us feel better?

The Father of Evolution

Charles Darwin was the first scientist to correctly identify and write about the facial feedback hypothesis.  This hypothesis suggested that emotional states could be altered by the tensing of the facial muscles. Specifically it identified that the muscles in the cheeks (zygomaticus major muscle) and around the eye socket (orbicularis oculi muscle) were key to lifting a person’s mood.

What’s going on when you smile?

When we have a pleasant experience like seeing the first daffodils of Spring or bumping into a good friend, our brain acknowledges this positive experience by releasing endorphins – our feel-good hormones. At the same time our fantastic brains send a neural signal to the facial muscles and they contract to make us smile.

A Positive feedback loop from a Smile

Here’s the smile process

  1. The brain reacts to a positive stimulus by releasing endorphins
  2. The brain also sends a signal to our facial muscles to contract and smile
  3. The contracting muscles fire a message back to the brain to say “Wow we are feeling good”
  4. Our brain then releases more endorphins, and we feel even happier!

So, we have this positive feedback loop.

Can you fake it?

The simple answer is – Yes you can!   If you smile without the positive stimulus the contracting muscles in your face still sends the “Wow we feel great” message back to the brain which releases its endorphins that make you feel good.

If you find it hard to force the contraction of the facial muscles into a smile, try biting onto a pencil or something similar.  It’s nearly the same action as a smile and the same message goes to the brain.

Are smiles contagious?

It is a known fact that, just like yawns, smiles are catching! A study by Swedish scientists discovered that people find it hard to maintain a neutral facial expression when they see another smiling face.  This is because simply seeing a smile stimulates our mirror neurones to trigger our own smile.

Smiling and good health

We know that smiling can cheer us up, but did you know that it also brings other health benefits. Smiling can reduce anxiety and lower your blood pressure and heart rate. The endorphins that are released as a result of smiling are natural pain relievers and smiling also kick starts neuropeptides which combat stress!

It’s a fact that smiling is good for both your mental and physical health. What are you waiting for get that grin going!

If you want to read more about the science of smiles take a look at these articles and websites:

Smiles are Contagious

There’s magic in your Smile

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