Are you looking for a simple but effective brain hack for happiness? It all comes down to your smile.
There’s a Chinese Proverb that says, “Use your smile to change the world; don’t let the world change your smile”.
Smiling is powerful. They’re a natural way to express happiness and they invite those around you to share in that emotion. They light up a room and can help others feel at ease. In short, smiles are wonderful things.
But often in life, you may experience times when you don’t feel like smiling. Maybe you’re sad, or angry, or stressed. You’ve likely heard the adage: fake it until you make it. But does that actually help?
It turns out your brain prefers to smile—even if it’s fake. The simple act of smiling has enormous benefits for your brain.
Your Brain on Smiles
When you smile, your mouth sends a signal to your brain. This releases neuropeptides, molecules that lower stress and help neurons communicate. They also trigger the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins—or, the happiness hormones.
- Dopamine gives you an instant boost of energy and motivation.
- Serotonin helps calm you down and soothes your nerves.
- Endorphins reduce cortisol levels and can even decrease feelings of pain. If you’ve ever heard the expression “smiling through the pain”, it’s because smiling can literally help manage your pain.
Together, these brain chemicals work to improve your mood, and help decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Smiling also helps combat the long-term effects of chronic stress. This means reducing things like memory and recall problems, inability to learn, decision fatigue, trouble with problem-solving, and brain fog.
Research out of the University of Kansas found that smiling lowers your heart rate. Another study found that smiling can lower blood pressure. And multiple studies have shown that smiling boosts your immune function, which leads to better health and longevity.
The best part? You can get these incredible benefits even when you force a smile. A small study out of the University of Cardoff, Wales, found that participants who had Botox and couldn’t frown reported feeling happier for extended periods of time after the injections. In fact, after long-term use of Botox, nine of the participants felt such relief, they were able to reduce their medication and, in some cases, stop taking it entirely.
Your brain is hard-wired to associate a smile with happiness. That means a fake smile triggers the same neurochemical reaction as a real one. And because you’ll end up feeling better, odds are, that fake smile becomes real.
Smiles are Contagious
Smiling is not just a cue for your brain, but also for those around you. When someone smiles at you, the neurons in your brain automatically mirror that behavior. It’s instinct to smile back. This does two things:
1) Smiling instantly creates a positive social connection. People relax and stress levels go down for everyone. When you work with a smile, you’re creating a framework of positivity that lets people know you’re easy to work with and be around. This automatically builds trust and camaraderie, which means you’ll end up getting more done.
2) Giving and receiving smiles tells your brain that you are surrounded by friendly people. Your brain seeks social connections because it wants you to survive. To the brain, more friendly people means a better chance of survival. Being smiled at automatically reduces your stress response and puts you in a calmer state.
They say the best things in life are free. A smile costs nothing, yet it can be your shield from a host of health and cognitive issues arising from day-to-day problems. If you are having a bad day, use this brain hack and flash a big smile—even if you don’t feel like it — and see how the day magically transforms. Happy smiling!
For more on how body language affects your brain, watch this video: