What a Smile Can Do for You


Ashley Zhao, Staff Writer

While many people simply view smiling as an involuntary response to things that bring you joy or happiness, most overlook the fact that smiling can be just as much a voluntary response as a conscious and powerful decision. Numerous studies have shown that just the act of smiling (physically making the expression), whether it comes as a result of real joy or not, can have both short and long term benefits on a person’s health and wellbeing. By choosing to smile, you can easily make a positive change to not only your daily life but others around you as well. 

Smiling can reduce stress

The next time you feel pressured by schoolwork or other extracurricular activities, try cracking a smile. In a 2012 study published in the journal Psychological Science, University of Kansas psychology students Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman recruited 169 participants and instructed them to hold chopsticks in their mouths in such a way to create a neutral facial expression, a standard smile (engaging only muscles around mouth), or a Duchenne smile (muscles around eyes and mouth). The participants were then asked to work on multitasking activities designed to be stressful, like submerging a hand in ice water or drawing a star with their non-dominant hand. The experiment revealed that subjects who put on a Duchenne smile experienced a substantial reduction in heart rate and quicker stress recovery compared to those whose expressions remained neutral. 

Smiling may strengthen the body

Just like how smiling can relieve your stress, putting on this cheerful facial expression can release the tension on a cellular level as well, according to biochemist and artist Sondra Barrett. In her book, titled Secrets of Your Cells, Barrett details how cells can distinguish between safety and danger, locate and repair problems, and create an overall sense of balance in the body. Her writing also highlights how a person’s thoughts go hand-in-hand with a cell’s functions. When we smile, we reduce the rigidness of our cells, allowing for this physical relaxation to help combat the risk of stress-induced cell mutations that may lead to the development or persistence of various cancers.

Smiles are contagious

Whenever you share a smile around a friend or colleague, do you ever notice how they will reciprocate a smile back? According to neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni, we all possess something called mirror neurons, which are cells in the premotor cortex and inferior parietal cortex that activate when we perform a given action or when we watch someone else performing it. When it comes to smiling, mirror neurons respond to both acts of seeing and doing. “The way mirror neurons likely let us understand others is by providing some kind of inner imitation of the actions of other people, which in turn leads us to ‘simulate’ the intentions and emotions associated with those actions,” Iacoboni said in an interview with Scientific American. “When I see you smiling, my mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, initiating a cascade of neural activity that evokes the feeling we typically associate with a smile.”

In times of great tension or anxiety, what all of us truly need is a smile. At no cost whatsoever, we can all make a positive impact on the wellbeing of our own lives as well as those of other people with just a simple grin. As best said in the words of Mother Teresa, “We will never know all the good things a smile can do.”