A Simple Smile Can Improve Your Mood

A young woman smiling.

Smiling can rewire your brain, produce positive emotions, and raise your spirits. (Image: via Pixabay)

“I have many problems in life, but my lips don’t know that. They always smile.” Charlie Chaplin.

Most notable leaders and celebs have always known the power of smiling. When they are smiling, they radiate confidence, happiness, and friendliness. But is it just an artful deception, or does smiling actually make you happier?

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According to a study published in Experimental Psychology, smiling — whether genuine or not — can trick your brain into positivity. Smiling can rewire your brain, produce positive emotions, and raise your spirits.

So, how does smiling affect your brain? And how long do you have to smile to trick your brain?

Smiling leads to positive interpretations

According to lead researcher Fernando Mamolejo-Ramos, Ph.D., smiling boosted internal positive emotions among the participants. It also made them look at the world around them more positively. Fernando is a research fellow at the Centre for Change and Complexity in Learning at the University of South Australia. 

This study analyzed the impact of covert smiling on two fronts: perceptions of the face and body expressions. The participants were divided into two groups. In one group, the researchers induced smiling by having the participants hold a pen between their teeth, forcing their facial muscles to imitate the movements of smiling. The comparison group did not hold a pen in their mouths.

Both groups were then shown various facial expressions like frowning or smiling, and a range of body movements such as “happy walking” or “sad walking.” Because of the induced smile, the pen group interpreted the facial expressions and body movements of others as more favorable compared to the “no-pen” group.

“When your muscles say you are happy, you’re more likely to positively see the world around you,” said Marmolejo-Ramos.

Seated woman with glasses smiles as two standing people talk together in the background.
When people smile, it stimulates the amygdala — the emotional center of your brain. (Image: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz via Dreamstime)

Happy brain, happy person

When people smile, it stimulates the amygdala — the emotional center of your brain. This, in turn, releases neurotransmitters to encourage a positive outlook. Marmolejo-Ramos believes the study can be helpful in mental health, especially in reducing anxiety and depression. 

Dr. Isha Gupta, a neurologist based in New York, also found that smiling can increase feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine levels.

“Dopamine increases our feelings of happiness. In addition, serotonin release is associated with reduced stress. Conversely, low-stress levels are associated with depression and aggression,” said Gupta.

Better fake smiling than no smiling 

More studies suggest the effects of smiling can trick your brain into assuming you are happy. Better yet, it can boost your immune system. According to Dr. Grossan Murray, depression weakens your immune system, while happiness can promote your health.

“What’s crazy is that just smiling can make a difference in building your immunity. This is because when you smile, the brain sees the muscle [activity] and assumes that humor is happening,” says Dr. Grossan.

It simply means that your brain loves it when you smile. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a genuine or a fake smile. So it doesn’t have to be the iconic Duchenne smile. Just smile, and your body will thank you for it. 

Today, we know that the traditional notion that you can’t fake a Duchenne smile isn’t true. Instead, some great communicators, leaders, and salespeople can imitate genuine smiling easily and intentionally. So if you can smile on command, it’s high time you start practicing smiling.

Young woman at the wheel turns to the backseat and smiles.
Besides scientific studies, thousands of people confirm that smiling boosts their positive outlook — and that of others. (Image: Standret via Dreamstime)

Smiling is contagious

Besides scientific studies, thousands of people confirm that smiling boosts their positive outlook — and that of others. That’s because, like yawning, smiling is contagious. You see a person smiling and you want to smile with them.

So always wear a smile even when things aren’t going well. Besides your well-being, smiling may mean a lot to someone depressed or going through a difficult patch. 

Modern researchers and ancient sages agree that smiling is powerful. You can boost empathy, calm a fast-beating heart, and improve your mood with a smile. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s famous words: “Your joy can be the source of your smile, but sometimes, your smile can be the source of your joy.”

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