Finding Your Happy Place In A Smile

Why does the simple action of smiling help boost our mood?

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Have you ever felt so sad that nothing could cheer you up? I know that this is probably the last thing that could lift your spirits up, but maybe a smile can. As crazy as it sounds, a simple smile can cheer you up completely.

How to do this, you ask? To start, try grinning. If you have to, force yourself to fake it until you make it. If you’re done with grinning, go the extra mile: laugh. “But I don’t find anything funny”, you say. Well, try finding something that will make you laugh – a funny video on YouTube, or bug that crazy friend of yours to do something so absurd that you’ll end up laughing so hard.

As an 11-year-old growing up in Jakarta, I see more smiles a day than I do frowns. Even those that have the least necessities possible on the street carry on with their day with at least a smile. 

If not permanent, smiling is a temporary solution to your worries. When I received my Mathematics exam result, I was extremely upset. I barely passed, which made me super anxious. I almost started crying when my friend assured me that everything was fine. I decided to listen to her for my own sake and pushed the thought to the back of my head – as far as I could. Carrying on with my day, I eventually started smiling again and felt pretty good. I only remembered my results at the end of the day, but at least I had a great afternoon. 

Back to the main question: why exactly does smiling make us happy? When you smile, your body releases chemicals known as dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine (the same chemical that gets released after a bite of chocolate!) increases our feelings of happiness, while serotonin reduces levels of stress. So, smiling tricks your brain into believing that you’re feeling happy, which then triggers actual feelings of happiness. 

Smiling is also contagious, almost like a yawn. When you see a friend smile, you think “Oh, she is smiling at me. Perhaps just a piece of me feels a bit more alive.” As a result, you smile back and you feel happy. Adrienne Wood, a PhD student in psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told The Huffington Post that “When you see a facial expression and you want to know what it means, you recreate that expression in your brain.” This stimulates a reaction in your brain telling you to smile. For me, this process is quite interesting because no one inherently decided that a smile equates to happiness and a frown equates to sadness. And yet, it still works.

So, flick those worries off your shoulder and say, “Not now, I’m busy smiling.” and that shouldn’t be a lie.

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