Smiles are the universal symbol for happiness and kindness. No matter where in the world you are, seeing someone smile at you instantly feels friendly – the joy that’s apparent on their face transfers to yours, without any words or further communication needed.
We smile when we’re happy, when we’re laughing, and when we want to make a good impression. But smiling is more than just a facial expression: it has psychological ramifications that can actually make you feel happier. That means that even making yourself smile – right now while you’re reading this – will signal to the brain that you’re happy, and there will be a physiological response.
Here are a few ways that smiling has an impact on your mental health.
1. It releases neurotransmitters associated with joy and pleasure.
The minute a smile crosses your face, your brain interprets the movement as a moment of joy, and immediately releases neurotransmitters associated with making you feel happier: dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. These are the same chemicals that antidepressants aim to rise, so you can make yourself feel better quicker than you think. The happy truly get happier. This is why it’s important to make yourself smile every now and then throughout busy or stressful days.
2. It can alleviate stress.
When the brain releases these pleasure neurotransmitters, it also affects your body’s built-in stress response systems. Since feelings of joy and glee are opposite feelings of distress and agitation, it cancels them out in some ways — your body relaxes, and your heart rate begins to decrease. Once the body feels like it’s under less stress, the relief can be felt throughout the body as a whole. This dance between emotions and physiological reactions happens all day long.
3. It can boost your immunity.
The ramifications of smiling go beyond the above points, since emotions work as a control center for much of what happens within our bodies. Since periods of great stress weaken the immune system, forcing a smile and releasing the positive neurotransmitters can reverse the impacts of stress, boosting your immunity.
It’s important to recognize that all facial expressions have an impact on how we feel. A team of PhD students at the University of Tennessee Knoxville found that while smiling indeed makes the smiler happier, frowns can make you sadder, and scowls can make you angrier. That’s why it’s important to smile even on the bad days — you’ll feel better soon!
The best way to boost your chance of smiling is to have a smile you’re proud of. When someone lacks confidence in their smile, they’re less likely to smile even in moments that they are happy or amused. They’ll refuse the smile as to not show their teeth, meaning they’re missing out on the positive neurotransmitters and more likely to be frowning or neutral all day.
My job as an orthodontist is to help my patients have smiles they’re proud of: smiles that make them want to bare their straight, white teeth and genuinely express their joy. I know the impact that a smile can have – not just on us when we smile, but for those we smile at – and my work is inevitably about spreading joy. It all starts with a smile.