It’s late autumn, the traditional start of the cold and flu season when anxious Americans will spend untold sums on vitamins, flu shots, homemade remedies and countless other concoctions (just try Googling “cold and flu cures”) in an effort to stay healthy this winter.
And while many of these make sense, research reveals a startlingly simple behavior that not only improves your health but can also extend your life. Better yet, it’s free–and it’s something we all do naturally.
If you think something as simple and autonomic as smiling can’t possibly improve your health and well-being, consider these findings:
- In 2010, researchers at Wayne State University analyzing pre-1950’s baseball cards found that the length of a player’s smile determined how long they lived. Those who smiled on their card live an average of 80 years; those who didn’t smile lived 72 years.
- Smiling activates our brain to make us feel better. Known as the Facial Feedback Hypothesis, beginning in the 19th century, scientists deduced that the brain is constantly taking input from muscle contractions in our face and, in response to smiling, releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that induces pleasure and strengthens the immune system. In fact, British researchers using an electromagnetic brain scan machine and heart-rate monitor to create “mood-boosting values” for various stimuli discovered that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as receiving up to 16,000 pounds sterling in cash. As speaker and entrepreneur Ron Gutman says in his popular Ted Talk on the hidden power of smiling, “that’s about 25 grand a smile!”
- Conclusion: While conventional wisdom suggests that we smile because we’re happy, in fact, the opposite is true: We’re happy…because we smile.
So if smiling can produce so many healthy brain functions that can stave off sickness, why do so many people still get sick?
We Don’t Smile Nearly Enough!
Consider this: Although children, on average, smile up to 400 times in a single day, (in fact, ultrasound imaging shows that babies smile in the womb) by the time we reach adulthood, most of us smile less than half that much. In fact, according to one study, 14% of people on average smile less than 20 times per day. When I consider that statistic, I think, “How much internal stress, anxiety, or just plain gloom and doom must someone be experiencing to smile so little?”
If you’ve resigned yourself to enduring a bad cold, flu or some other form of sickness this winter, consider that one of your most powerful defenses could, literally, be right in your face.
My One Week “Smile Trial” Challenge
- As soon as you wake up, look in your bathroom mirror and flash your brightest smile for 10 seconds (If you laugh at yourself, even better!) Then notice how you feel. Repeat this 3-5 times during the day–driving to and from work, at your desk, before you go to sleep, etc.
- While driving, take notice of the facial expressions of approaching drivers in the opposite lane. How many are smiling? Frowning? Looking pensive or stressed?
- Try to be deliberately mindful of your smiling behavior. For example, try smiling when you typically wouldn’t –while driving, reading, exercising, etc. Pay close attention to how you feel.
Finally, please share your feedback with me.
Are you skeptical that something as simple as a smile can produce so many healthy outcomes? Would you consider yourself an average, below average, or frequent smiler? If not, what prevents you from smiling more? Do these findings help motivate you? I’d love to hear from you.