Research on smiling addresses a wide variety of topics, from orthodontists going after ‘the perfect’ smile, to courtroom choices of jurors (1). In fact,’increased smile intensity was associated with greater trustworthiness’ (2). Most importantly, research indicates smiling people are perceived as being more likable (1), more attractive (2), and more trustworthy (3).
Brain measurements show immediate happiness results when smiling
Scientists have measured how our brains respond when we smile, and their studies indicate ‘When you smile, you become happy'(4). The brain reaction to smiles is very rapid, on the order of 150 milliseconds, almost twice as fast as the reaction to anger (5).
The brain actually responds and changes when we smile. A particular type of ‘real’ smile, in which the corners of the eyes ‘crinkle’, is called a Duchenne smile. The facial movements associated with this smile ‘can induce the corresponding emotions’, especially if we voluntarily pay attention to smiling (6).
Smiles not only increase mood from a ‘neutral’ place, but also from a depressed state
In fact, smiling ‘may increase the activity of subcortical nuclei related to positive emotions and counteract symptoms of depression’ (6). Indeed, when we smile we are voluntarily generating changes in our brains, ‘in both autonomic and central nervous system activity’ (7).
Seeing smiling expressions (or smiling oneself) stimulates both the ‘reward-related’ and the ‘memory-related’ portions of the brain (8). Deep brain stimulation that induced smiling also resulted in mood elevation (9).
Beyond personal happiness when smiling, the feeling is apparently contagious
In testing at-risk infants, it was shown that the babies’ heart rates slowed down when they observed smiles (10). Smiling helped children with eating disorders eat healthy meals (11). A test of Japanese grandmothers demonstrated that seeing smiling children had a positive effect on brain activity and mood (12).
Activities involving smiling and laughter also decreased depression for elderly in residential homes (13). Indeed, for nursing home residents ‘humor therapy’ increased happiness and decreased agitation (14).
Healthy people smile more often – therefore eating right makes you happen by default
Children whose diets had been insufficient nutritionally began to smile more after vitamin supplementation (particular with iron when needed), and ‘spent more time laughing and smiling’, as well as showing improved adaptation to stress (15).
Increased levels of serotonin, or activity of the serotonin transporter were associated with smiling activities in infants (16); this can be affected by tryptophan in the diet (17). High levels of tryptophan can be found in kidney beans, sesame seeds, cashews, hazelnuts, and soybeans. These foods in our diet can help our moods naturally, as well as helping achieve sound sleep.
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Image source: flic.kr