A Smile a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Researchers have discovered one of the two types of smiles can have amazing effects on your health and your brain functions.

What are the two types of smiles?
The first type of smile is the regular, “slightly turn up the corners of the mouth,” pleasant smile. The second type of smile is described by researchers as a full-faced “Duchenne Smile” that includes both the mouth and the muscles around the eyes. I like to call it ‘The Big Smile!’ You’ll discover here that the benefits of developing a Duchenne Big Smile habit are much more than expected.

Getting started
First, research tells us a full-faced smile actually activates neuropeptides, tiny molecules that facilitate the communication of neurons in the brain. Neuropeptides are like traffic cops releasing traffic jams in the flow of thought in the brain.
This means that anything which inwardly blocks a big smile (like deep sighs, inner negative thoughts, etc.) actually hinders the release of neuropeptides and our brain function.
Here’s a Mom Recommendation: Get your child to smile a lot before that big day, evening study or test. Make him laugh and smile big. Get those neuropeptides flowing. Big smiling and laughing can break up that “flow of thought traffic jam” in their brain and release the ability to think clearer.
Second, when the brain is energized and enabled with neuropeptides from big smiles it can more efficiently send messages to the whole body. Scientists say that the neurotransmitters of natural dopamine, endorphins and serotonin (natural feel-good, stress relieving chemicals) are all released when our body receives positive brain messages.
Wife Recommendation: That means when he gets up-tight and stressed, do a smile-inventory on the previous several days. Chances are he’s been deep sighing and thinking how challenging things are. It’s time to increase our smile-investments and get those neurotransmitters flowing to help him reduce his stress level (and emotional debt level). That can only reduce your stress level too.

The science behind it
The benefits of a Duchenne Big Smile to you and your family are real. A Big Smile habit releases more and more neuropeptides that facilitate the flow of thought in the brain. This helps the brain communicate more effectively to the rest of the body and release natural chemicals which make us feel better. On the negative side, if a body is habitually up-tight and deprived of feel good chemicals over a longer period of time, it has a tendency to produce higher blood pressure. Finally, our own Big Smile habit not only helps us, but by exposing ourselves to others that Big Smile helps immeasurably as well.

Here’s one more important thing
When we sprinkle our moments with lots of big smiles, the release of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters not only decreases stress in the body, but it can extend to our heart rate and blood pressure as well. Research suggests that this takes time and depends on the intensity of long held feelings.
The fact is (they say) holding grumpy, angry thoughts and refusing to smile can actually hinder the release of the natural chemicals. This effectually increases stress in the body, and if held long and strong enough, can actually negatively affect our heart and blood pressure. If people are asking why you’re so up-tight, it might be time to consciously count your Duchenne Big Smiles for the day.
High blood pressure sufferers unite! Research strongly suggests your heart and blood pressure will be glad you did!
At the Face Research Laboratory (University of Aberdeen, Scotland) one 2011 study asked individuals to rate smiling and attractiveness. It’s not surprising that participants were more attracted to people who made eye contact and smiled and were less attracted to non-smilers.
Another study in the Neuropsychologia journal tells us that seeing a smiling face activates our orbitofrontal cortex. This is the part of our brain that processes sensory rewards. That means seeing someone smiling actually helps us feel better about ourselves.
Doing the research for this article made me Smile Big. Where’s my blood pressure sleeve? It’s around here somewhere.

“Prove-it” challenges
And just for your personal benefit before reading any further, produce and hold a big smile for 15 seconds. Try it! To increase its effect, do it in front of a mirror. Ha! Reflect on that for a moment. Help yourself by focusing on something the kids did to make you laugh yesterday, or give attention to something truly humorous. That gives us 100 percent natural chemical stress relievers with no negative side effects.
Try taking a walk for one block on a busy street downtown Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. First, walk a whole block with a frowny, disgusted, grumpy look. Growl and mumble every ten steps. Notice the reactions you get.
Second, turn around and walk back flashing a big smile, a happy attitude and a springy step. Actually say hi to every fifth person. Compare. Notice how others react to you more positively and how you feel better about yourself. I dare you! Try it!
Let’s start a ‘Big-Smile-Revolution.

Steve Davis is an adjunct professor (adult development, research & writing), advisor to the Master of Arts in Theological Studies and International Student Representative at Trinity International University. He can be contacted at sdavis@tiu.edu.

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