Train your brain to become happier! Increase your productivity and attention span! Watch your career take off! It sounds like an infomercial or the tagline of a self-help book, but recent studies have shown that smiling can actually rewire your brain to create more positive patterns. What else can smiling do for you? A lot, it seems.
1. Smiling makes you happier.
According to Scientific American, our facial expressions influence our feelings. Frowning induces greater negative feelings, while smiling reinforces feelings of happiness. A recent University of Cardiff study cited by Scientific American even found that people whose frowns were inhibited by Botox injections were, on average, happier than people who could frown. Although these Botoxed people reported greater feelings of happiness, they did not report feeling any more attractive, leading researchers to conclude that their happiness was not tied to their physical appearance — it occurred simply because they weren’t frowning.
2. Smiling aids concentration.
Smiling has been shown to aid people’s concentration by making them feel good, which leads to better focus. According to a 2010 study, positive emotion broadens cognition; during two exercises — a global-local visual processing task and a “covert attentional orienting task” — the participants in the study who smiled the most often also displayed increased “attentional breadth” (essentially, the size of your window of attention) and “attentional flexibility,” which is the ability to think about two things simultaneously or switch back and forth between thinking about two different concepts.
3. People who smile are considered more trustworthy.
People are more likely to trust someone who’s smiling, perhaps because, as the study mentions, smiling is usually perceived as a sign of cooperation. So the next time you want to make a good impression or get someone to trust you, just try smiling. You don’t even have to be sincere… although if you spend enough time smiling, maybe you will be.
4. It makes you less anxious.
In the same University of Cardiff study, the Botoxed participants reported feeling less anxiety overall than people without Botox. Another study had participants holding chopsticks in their mouths; some held the chopsticks in a position that would make their lips mimic a real smile, others held it in a way that mimicked a fake smile and others held it in a way that produced no smile. They were then given a mental task and a “pain induction.” During both of these tasks, their heart rates and stress levels were measured. The people who were mimicking a real smile were less stressed and showed faster physiological recovery than the other two groups. The moral of the story? The next time someone asks you to put chopsticks in your mouth and participate in a pain induction, smile — you’ll be less anxious!
5. Smiling people are perceived as more likeable.
A January 2005 study on Duchenne smiles found that during a simulated hotel check-in, the “authenticity” of the person providing service — that is, the realness of their smile — “enhanced perceptions of friendliness” and influenced customer satisfaction when tasks were performed well. In a second simulation involving restaurant servers, perceived authenticity in a server’s expression “enhanced the perceived friendliness of the employee.” Basically, when people see a real smile, they see the person smiling as more friendly.
6. Even a fake smile is a good thing.
Apparently, even a fake smile can reduce stress and have a positive effect on your mood; smiles actually change your brain activity and give you all the previously mentioned benefits of feeling happy and less anxious, even the smile is totally fake.
7. People who smile are also perceived as being more competent.
Several different studies, including the one above, have suggested that when people smile, they’re seen as more competent. Customers are more satisfied with employees who smile, while people who smile (with teeth) in their profile photo on social media are perceived by others as more competent than those who are laughing or not smiling at all. It’s unclear why this is, but it may be related to likeability; when you perceive a person as friendlier and more likeable, positive feelings are created, leading to a greater feeling of satisfaction with the person who is smiling at you.
8. The more you smile, the more you counteract your brain’s tendency to be negative.
Your brain is actually aware of you smiling, according to Fast Company; when you smile, your brain keeps track, so the more you smile, “the more effective you are at breaking the brain’s natural tendency to think negatively.”
9. Smiling gives you better holistic perception.
In the same 2010 study as above, those who smiled also showed greater holistic perception — in other words, the ability to see the big picture rather than getting bogged down in details. The authors of the study suggest that prior research indicates that states of anxiety “narrow attentional focus by reducing the ability to process peripheral information.” However, evidence of broader, more holistic thinking was seen more often in people who smiled often than in people who rarely or never smiled. As the researchers wrote, “smile to see the forest,” because it appears that non-smilers can only see the trees.
10. Smiles are contagious.
It sounds corny, but it’s true; smiles are contagious. So if you smile at someone, they’ll most likely smile, too, and all the positive effects of smiling will be transferred to them.