Smiling Really Does Make People Feel Happier

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April McCarthy,

Smiling really can make people feel happier, according to a paper examining thousands of participants in the Psychological Bulletin.

Did you know your smile can be a predictor of how long you’ll live—that a simple smile has a measurable effect on your overall well-being?

Most of us are not born eternal optimists, but being positive and grateful is something that can be imbibed; such as by trying to tweak our sense of humor, or the way we react to a given situation, by being more pleasant. Embrace gratitude and above all else the secret to being happy may just be to smile more.

Imagine we are in a pleasant situation, like bumping into an old friend on the metro. When our brains feel happy, endorphins are produced and neuronal signals are transmitted to your facial muscles to trigger a smile. This is the start of the positive feedback loop of happiness. When our smiling muscles contract, they fire a signal back to the brain, stimulating our reward system, and further increasing our level of happy hormones, or endorphins. In short, when our brain feels happy, we smile; when we smile, our brain feels happier.

The paper, coauthored by researcher Heather Lench at Texas A&M University and researchers Nicholas Coles and Jeff Larsen at University of Tennessee, looked at nearly 50 years of data testing whether posing facial expressions can lead people to feel the emotions related to those expressions.

“These findings address a critical question about the links between our internal experience and our bodies—whether changing our facial expression can alter the emotions we feel and our emotional response to the world,” Lench said.

“Conventional wisdom tells us that we can feel a little happier if we simply smile. Or that we can get ourselves in a more serious mood if we scowl. But psychologists have actually disagreed about this idea for over 100 years,” said Coles, the lead author of the paper.

These disagreements became more pronounced in 2016 when 17 teams of researchers failed to replicate a well-known experiment demonstrating that the physical act of smiling can make people feel happier.

Using a statistical technique called meta-analysis, the team combined data from 138 studies testing over 11,000 participants from all around the world. According to the meta-analysis, posing facial expressions has a small impact on our feelings. For example, smiling makes people feel happier, scowling makes them feel angrier, and frowning makes them feel more sad.

“We don’t think that people can ‘smile their way to happiness.’ But these findings are exciting because they provide a clue about how the mind and the body interact to shape our conscious experience of emotion,” said Coles. “We still have a lot to learn about these facial feedback effects, but this meta-analysis put us a little closer to understanding how emotions work.”

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This article, republished with permission, originally appeared here.

April McCarthy is a writer for

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