Funnily enough, the old adage that we use fewer muscles to smile than we do to frown – the classic ‘reason to smile’ – is not entirely accurate. At a very, very basic level, smiles tend to use around 10 muscles, whereas an ultra-simple frown uses about 6* . However – muscular effort aside – if we take a brief, but slightly more detailed look at the facts and ideas behind smiling, we find that there are encouraging reasons to indeed spend more of our time with a grin plastered across our face.
Let’s begin with some of the research. Studies suggest that smiling makes you feel good. This can be both smiling yourself, or seeing others smile. On a fundamental level, ‘good feelings’ are essentially our brain sending off certain signals to our body when stimulated by something external. (Note: I am painfully aware that I am some way off having a proper scientific understanding of the brain, but this article* – although far too ‘science-y’ for me – explains it more completely. If you’re into that sort of thing).
“That is a mind-blowing statistic to support the power of a simple smile.”
So. These brain signals make us feel good. One particular study* concluded that seeing the smile of someone you love and care about can produce the same amount of happiness – i.e the same amount of ‘good-feeling’ brain signals – as eating 600 chocolate bars. Six hundred! A smile from a friend is roughly equivalent to 200 chocolate bars*. Great news if you like chocolate. The first of these articles also point out that the study even concluded that particularly a child’s smile produced the same amount of positive stimulation as receiving 16,000 pounds. That is a mind-blowing statistic to support the power of a simple smile. (Yeah, I’m not convinced on that one either to be honest. Smiles are great. But sixteen grand? Do me a favour).
Anyway – on these grounds, then, you have the power to produce a lot of good feelings in the people you care about – just by smiling at them! Doesn’t this seem as good a reason as any to make a conscious effort to genuinely smile at those around you? Even without having your brain signals scientifically monitored, anyone can notice that real, honest and warm smiles from those around them improve their mood, even if only a small amount.
This leads us onto our next reason to smile: it’s contagious! Both smiling and laughter are considered ‘contagious’, in the sense that we are likely to smile and/or laugh if someone else is, even if we aren’t aware of it. This is essentially because of our human instinct to mimic the emotions and gestures of those with whom we interact, so as to help us develop social connections*.
“Imagine taking it upon yourself to genuinely smile at three people today.”
We tend to ‘copycat’ positive emotions far more than negative ones; smiling and laughter is thus more ‘contagious’ than anything else. I completely agree, the idea of ‘spreading’ smiles is a bit – for want of a better word – wanky. But surely it’s at least worth trying? Imagine taking it upon yourself to genuinely smile at three people today. You might, even for a brief moment, pass on the (might I add, proven) good feeling that comes with a smile to someone else. Who knows, that smile might stay with one of those people, who then carries it over to someone else, who carries it over to someone else – and so on. And if you’re on your own, try smiling at yourself in a mirror. I’m getting ahead of myself, and this is a hugely idealistic approach, but you get the idea: its infectious nature seems another solid reason to smile.
We live in challenging times. Covid-19 has taught us all a shocking, but truly important lesson: some things are simply out of our control. All of us have had plans, goals, and ideas interrupted by the virus. We cannot change that. Amidst this, however, there is a chance to become aware of the importance of the smaller things. To bring to prominence those small parts of daily life that are all too easily neglected in our otherwise busy and often frantic lifestyles. The third reason, then, is simple: there is one of these small parts that, no matter what comes your way, will always be under your control:
Your smile! The energy that you put out into the world before you. That will always be yours.
Every person has different reasons to smile, and different things that make them happy. Hopefully, the three reasons put forward here are applicable to anyone and everyone. I encourage you to try it; just devote one day to being conscious of your smiling, and note the effect. Smile with sincerity and smile with purpose. It’s the least we can do to even slightly improve the wellbeing of both ourselves and of those around us. As Gaur Gopal says; ‘Smile, it increases your face value!’
By Gabriel Godfrey-Janni