Happiness and Smiling

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Peathegee Inc/ Getty Images
Peathegee Inc/ Getty Images

Think for a moment, if you will, on the people you may see walking down a crowded city street. As you pass by each person, imagine the different uses of body language, how people walk, talk, and most importantly, notice the people who are smiling. Now, consider even further – which of the people that you pass, do you think, are happy? The answer, in the most simplistic terms, seems clear – the happy people are smiling, because being happy makes people smile. This may very well be true, but for me, I also see the reverse. Smiling makes people happy. In fact, I would say that the very pursuit of happiness begins with a smile.

I know this to be true, because for nearly twenty years, I have made happiness my business.

You see, I’m a dentist.

Now, the fact that I consider my profession – one that for some people may require the use of laughing gas just to relax them enough before I even start my work – to be foundational to the quest for happiness may seem odd at first. My experience in Cosmetic Dentistry, however, has afforded me a unique perspective.

I have made it my life’s work to put the most beautiful smiles on some of the most beautiful people in the world. Movie stars, iconic musicians, top models, world leaders, and other key influencers in the world today, all come to me with the same request – please give me the perfect smile. What is it about the quest for a perfect smile that leads them to seek out my exclusive services? These are people whose names are synonymous with confidence, success, and yes, happiness. What I have learned is that for many of them, all of this starts with the same thing:

Their smiles.

Let’s take a step back first, and talk about happiness. Happiness as a core value has come a long way. All over the world, societies are coming around to the idea that a happy and well-adjusted people is about more than just personal well-being. Happiness leads people to get more involved in their communities, and do more to spread that happiness to others, magnifying the effect. New government initiatives operate under the premise that happiness leads to a more productive, cohesive, and better citizenry, as well. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), to name one prominent example, has spearheaded this approach by creating a Ministry of Happiness for redefining the role of government in people’s lives. Ohood bint Khalfan Roumi, Minister of State for Happiness, describes the role of government as being there “to create the right conditions for people to choose to be happy.” Following the UAE’s example, Thailand and the United Kingdom are following suit by also developing their own initiatives to focus on the happiness of their citizens. So, if happiness is the goal for individuals and governments, how does one choose to be happy?

Try smiling.

From how you perceive yourself, to how others perceive you – don’t underestimate the power of your smile. The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) conducted comprehensive research on the benefits of having an aesthetically pleasing smile, and what they found is that nearly half the people surveyed for the study consider a person’s smile to be the most memorable feature after a first meeting. This is more than what a person says (25%), what they are wearing (9%), or even how they smell (8%).

In an additional independent study on behalf of the AACD, Dr. Anne Beall, a social psychologist and market research professional, showed two photos to a cross-section of the American population. In the first one, the individual pictured had a flawed smile, while in the second, a perfect one. The participants were asked to quickly judge the people in the photos on several different factors, such as how attractive, intelligent, happy, and successful in their career the subjects were. Besides the obvious increases in attractiveness rating, the participants also believed the people with the improved smile to be more successful and compassionate, as well.

While smiling is the first step in determining how you come across in the world, it can also parlay that reception to confidence and success, as well. Studies have shown that people who smile are found to have a “positive, approachable energy”. These same studies have also shown that we are more trustful of others when they smile. As a result, people who smile are more likely to earn tips and raises, are more readily approached with business ideas, and offered advancement. On the flipside, having a subpar smile can be damaging to your self-esteem, impacting your success. And hiding your smile can even lead to a perception of untrustworthiness.

So, always enter smiling.

Of course, not all the benefits to smiling are completely intangible. Smiling leads to improved health, as well. While happiness leads to improvements in your immune system, smiling also temporarily lowers your blood pressure, relaxes the body, and generally makes your heart not work so hard. The endorphins released by smiling reduce stress, lift your mood, and even work as natural painkillers, too. Dr. Isha Gupta, a neurologist from IGEA Brain and Spine explains that a smile produces a chemical reaction in the brain by releasing certain hormones, including dopamine and serotonin – hormones that increase our feelings of happiness and reduce stress, respectively. These things also contribute to longevity – about seven years more for those who smile regularly. Furthermore, not only does the radiance of a beautiful smile make you look younger, smiling lifts the muscles of your face, which also makes you look younger, too – up to three years younger, on average!

So, smile more.

Along with the benefits of improved health, many researchers have also linked smiling to improved mood. In fact, even faking a smile can produce a positive effect. Karen Kleinman, writing for Psychology Today, quotes two studies on the effects of smiling and how it modifies the response to outside events. What these studies showed is that the power of the smile goes beyond whether the smile even comes from a genuine emotional place or not. She tested her subjects with a pencil in their teeth – an action that physically forces a smile – and the positive benefits proved similar. People reacted more positively to funny stimuli, and their stress response was greatly reduced when reacting to negative stimuli. In other words – the more you smile, the more you want to smile!

So, just keep smiling.

Maybe the best thing about the benefits of smiling is that they are easy to share and highly contagious. The time and effort taken to improve your smile and show it off to the world will pay dividends not only for yourself and your own well-being, but throughout your sphere of influence to all those around you, as well. Confidence, success, better health, and yes, happiness – can all be paid forward with the radiance of a perfect smile. Take a moment to smile at someone, or let someone catch you smiling, and watch how many people smile back.

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