This post will be about smiling. You know – the opposite of frowning. In fact, I am smiling as I write this. My wife says I have an impish smile. I think she has a radiant smile. But I know people who cannot smile at all. And it elicits from me a frown. It is THAT contagious.
When people are “forced” to smile – that is, when they are asked to come up with their own version of a smile – they found it to be equally contagious and rather intoxicating.
Smiling is its own reward. But how can we force a smile in someone who cannot summon the energy it takes to smile. And make no mistake, it does take some amount of energy to force ourselves to something that isn’t a natural reflex.
You probably are familiar with the pencil technique. Here, I’ll show you: Stick a big, bad Number 2 Ticonderoga in your mouth, between your lips. I guarantee it will make you frown. But if, instead, you put it in your teeth, it will make you smile. Simple as that.
In moments of distress, I tell my clients to, “…turn to Ticonderoga!”
This is by no means an original thought on my part (sadly, not much is). My own grandmother suggested it, and her grandmother before that. But can it really make a difference in how we feel?
Turns out, yes, it does.
In 1974, a Dr. Laird and his compatriots conducted two experiments in which they manipulated an independent variable (people’s facial expressions) through means not disclosed to the study participations. The participants were shown cartoons from the newspaper. Laird and Company attached wires, electrodes, to the participants’ faces at the eyebrows, on their jaws, and at the corners of their mouths. The participants were then asked to contract their facial muscles, as best they could, at these specific places. The hypothesis was that if an individual’s mouth was manipulated into the form of a smile, it would change their opinion of the cartoon strip. It was also done using humorous video clips. And, in fact, when smiling, their perception of humor in the cartoon or the clip rose, dramatically at times, but never decreased.
A Dr. Strack and his research buddies did something similar in 1988. They asked participants to hold a pencil between their teeth rating the degree of humor in a series of newspaper cartoons. Holding the pencil in the mouth this way forced the individuals to smile. Meanwhile, other study subjects were asked to hold the pencil between their lips without touching the pencil with their teeth. This forced the muscles to contract resulting in a frown. The hypothesis was that participants who were led to smile would judge the cartoons as funnier than participants who were led to frown. And, again, this is precisely what occurred, to dramatic effect.
Those, then, were the seminal studies. Since then, other researchers have looked at various sub-criteria of smiling, for example the so-called fake smile, the extent to which teeth are exposed in a smile or how much of the cheek is lifted or corners of the mouth raised. Those researchers have discovered that there is a greater effect on a person’s experience with positive events (funny video clips or cartoons) when such sub-criteria are forced.
The bottom line here is this: the bigger the smile, the greater the effect, and that smiling during brief periods of stress may help reduce the body’s stress response, regardless of whether the person actually feels happy or not.
Moreover, smiling does indeed get the world to smile along. Consider how smiling …
- Makes Us Attractive to others There is an automatic attraction to people who smile.
- Changes our Mood. If you try, even when it’s difficult, to smile when you are not feeling good, there is a change it might improve your affect and change the way you are feeling.
- is Contagious. Others will want to be with you. You will be helping others feel good.
- Relieves Stress. It is tough to hide stress from coming out on our faces. When we smile, it can help us look better, less tired, less worn down.
- Boosts the Immune System. Smiling can stimulate your immune response by helping you relax.
- Lowers Blood Pressure When you smile, there is evidence that your blood pressure can decrease.
- Releases Endorphins and Serotonin. Research has reported that smiling releases endorphins, which are natural pain relievers, along with serotonin, which is also associated with feel good properties.
Remember, smiling doesn’t cost you anything, makes you infinitely more attractive, and makes the world a better place for all of us!