Benefits of Smiling
It may sound farfetched, but a forced smile is better than no smile at all. In fact, any kind of smile – real or fake – can do a lot to lift your mood.
“There is something about making a smile that has a psychological impact,” says Michael G. McKee, PhD, BCB, of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Psychology and Psychiatry. That’s because “the inner smile and the outer smile potentiate each other,” he explains. “If you’re not feeling an inner smile, fake it outwards and it will increase the inner smile.”
William James and Carl Lange, 19th-century scholars, were among the first to develop the theory that physical changes trigger an emotional reaction instead of vice versa. The James-Lange theory postulates that the brain reacts to information from the nervous system, causing an emotional experience. Dr. McKee agrees, saying if you make the expression of a smile, you will feel the emotion – happiness.
That means that a smile – whether forced or genuine – has the potential to:
- Change your mood
- Be contagious
- Relieve stress
- Boost the immune system
- Lower blood pressure
- Release endorphins (the feel-good hormone)
- Help you stay positive
The Power of a Smile
It’s important to note that there is a physical difference between a faked smile and a genuine one. Another 19th-century physician, French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne, determined that genuine smiles involve the muscles around the eyes in addition to the mouth.
Aia Camile Razon, a Patient Services representative at Cleveland Clinic, understands firsthand the power of a real smile.
Last summer she noticed a newly admitted patient who appeared to be lonely and in constant pain. “To help raise her spirits, I made a point to smile and greet her every day and help her with anything she needed while she was in our care,” Ms. Razon says.
The patient recovered from her hospitalization more quickly than anticipated. “I believe that the power of a smile made a big difference in her recovery,” Ms. Razon says.
Three months later, Ms. Razon saw the former patient and her husband at the grocery store. “She remembered me and gave me a big smile and an even bigger hug,” Ms. Razon says. “It showed me that a genuine smile can energize people, build camaraderie and encourage positive actions in any environment.”
Tips for Smiling
Dr. McKee says that while a genuine smile is more powerful in terms of personal health benefits, even a fake smile can make the person doing the smiling feel better. Acknowledging that faking a smile may be harder than it sounds, he recommends slowing your breathing and trying to relax both physically and emotionally.
“Using your imagination to identify a person, place or memory that causes a feeling of happiness can help make a smile,” Dr. McKee says. “The experience and good feeling will strengthen your smile and help you to register and remember the positive thoughts.”
Or just remember the lyrics to “Smile,” an old standard: “Smile though your heart is aching. Smile even though it’s breaking. When there are clouds in the sky you’ll get by…If you just smile.”
Did you know?
The lyrics and title of “Smile” were added in 1954 to music that Charlie Chaplin wrote for his 1936 movie Modern Times. Watch a video of clips from Charlie Chaplin films with Michael Jackson singing the song.