The Health Benefits of Smiling

PUBLISHED February 27, 2013

Remember the scene in Eat, Pray, Love when the Bali medicine man tells Elizabeth Gilbert to, “smile with your liver.” No? Well me either because I refused to watch that movie. But a friend of mine mentioned this scene and it resonated. A forced smile doesn’t do the same thing to your body as one that grows from the inside.

There’s no question of the benefits of staying positive. A healthy outlook permeates through your cells and can leave you with the same lasting benefits of taking a multi-vitamin.

1. Carefree and Cold-Free

Turns out putting on a smile can help you ward off the common cold. Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D. of Carnegie Mellon University lead a study to examine the relationship between people’s emotional outlooks on life and their ability to ward off the common cold. 300 participants were interviewed over a six-week period to determine whether they had a generally happy and energetic or sad, anxious and angry personality. They were then all exposed to the cold virus and quarantined while being monitored. The folks with a positive outlook were less likely to get sniffly and sneezy. This is partly because happy, energetic people live more active lifestyles, making them generally healthier. But those of this group who did contract the cold virus downplayed the symptoms and seemed less sick.

2. Therapeutic Humor

The best part of a smile is when it turns into a laugh. Physically when we laugh respiration and circulation are enhanced. Stress related hormones are suppressed and the immune system (T-cells) appear to be activated. A link between humor and health has been studied since 1979, when laughter as good medicine was first established. Dr. Goodman, subject of “Toward Optimal Health: The Experts Discuss Therapeutic Humor,” published for Journal of Women’s Health says, “If physicians can teach patients to give themselves a shot of humor, we may see fewer unneeded office visits and improved outcomes.”

3. You Can Fake It

Unlike in Anne’s “Health Benefits of Sex,” you are actually encouraged to fake it.  Your body can’t tell the difference between a fake laugh and a real laugh. Even when you force it you increase your body’s feel-good endorphins. A movement has been sparked around this idea called “Laughter Yoga,” during which participants begin by imitating the bodily functions that relate to laughter. By the end of the sessions attendees are able to laugh on command and enjoy a few minutes of side-splitting laughs. Toni Hart, author of “Laughter Makes All Things Possible,” explains that laughter changes your attitude. After laughing, and the stress levels have been decreased, your outlook on a situation is naturally more positive.

4. A Healthy Smile Prevents Aging

If anything got me to start flossing it’s when I was told bad teeth is the first thing that leads to wrinkles. The jaw is what supports the entire structure of the face. When our teeth start to rot and go bad, that support system wears away, causing our face to sort of cave in. Smiling on its own is great, but having a healthy smile is even better. Atul Gawande wrote an extensive piece on the aging of the human body titled, “The Way We Age Now.” He explains that the white enamel of teeth is the hardest substance on the body. None the less, it’s one of the first things to wear away as we age. At the same time, the blood supply to the pulp and roots of the teeth slows, as does the flow of saliva. The gums become inflamed and pull away from the teeth, which exposes the base. When this happens the teeth become unstable. Experts say they can gauge a person’s age to within five years from examining just a single tooth.

So brush twice a day, floss and stop skipping out on your dentist. It’s the best way to avoid the plastic surgeon.

5. Stress Reducer

I’ve already mentioned that smiling reduces stress, but I’m going to say it again: Smiling reduces stress! Screw the stress ball sitting on your desk at work and find someone who can make you crack into a genuine smile.

A study at the University of Kansas found that participants who smiled were less stressed while doing various tasks than those with neutral facial expressions. Even people who forced a smile had lower stress levels while doing an unpleasant task. So, your lack of smiling can actually be your cause of stress!


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