Viv Kenchington: the science behind a smile

­­­­­­­I watched two girls approach each other from opposite sides of a bridge, whilst stuck in traffic. Both wrapped in warm winter clothes on a rather dull day. The closer they got to each other the more their expressions changed.

Was it the recognition of a friend, that wonderful human connection? Maybe they were new acquaintances or old friends but watching the way their faces lit up, smiles beaming, and eyes creased at the corners did something to me in that moment…It made me spontaneously upturn my mouth to form that same smile and gave me a sudden warm flutter across my heart.

Witnessing this scene made me to think about the question why do we smile? I know I smile at lovely, funny, sweet things, puppies etc., etc. and when I do it makes me feel good. I suppose it is like a dog wagging its tail, but there are so many other feelings that go along with a smile. It could be pure excitement, fun, happiness, love it could be a sexy smile in an exchange of passion.

So, what’s the science behind a smile and why do we do it?

The process is simple…

1) Endorphins are released by the brain in response to a positive stimulation.
2) The brain also instructs our face muscles to contract and grin.
3) The contracting muscles send a message to the brain that ays, “Wow, we’re feeling wonderful.”
4) Our brain then releases even more endorphins, filling us with more joy!

As a result, we get this positive feedback cycle.

The first scientist to successfully recognize and report about this facial feedback theory was Charles Darwin. This idea proposed that tensing our face muscles could modify our emotional states. It was discovered that the muscles inside the cheeks (zygomaticus major muscle) and around the eye socket (orbicularis oculi muscle) were critical in enhancing a person’s mood. So even faking or forcing a smile lowers stress and increases happiness. If you’re having trouble forcing your facial muscles to contract into a smile, try biting on a pencil. It’s virtually the same motion as smiling, and it sends the same mood-altering information to the brain.

Don’t panic if you think it’s difficult to fake a smile. All you have to do is be in the company of someone who smiles. According to a Swedish study, it is difficult to maintain a frown when looking at people who are beaming at you. Smiling spreads like wildfire! Seeing other people smile stimulates our mirror neurons, causing us to suppress our facial muscle control and smile. So, “You smile, I smile” is actually scientifically proven.

We all know that smiling can make us feel better, but did you know that it comes with some serious health benefits? Smiling can help you feel better by lowering your blood pressure and heart rate. Grinning causes the production of endorphins, which are naturally occurring pain relievers. It also triggers the release of neuropeptides, which counteract stress.

It’s safe to say that smiling is beneficial to both your emotional and physical wellbeing. So, what are you waiting for? Smile, it’s free therapy!

Viv Kenchington

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