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A scientist explains the hidden power of your smile (and why it’s so important to have fun)

Have you ever heard of UC Berkeley’s 30-year longitudinal study that examined photos of students in an old yearbook? It’s a revolutionary study in psychology.

The study tried to measure the student’s success and wellbeing throughout their life simply based on their photos.

So, what did the study find?

If you think it measured the attractiveness of someone, and their level of wellbeing, you’re mistaken.

According to Ron Gutman, the lead researcher of the study, they found that by measuring students’ smiles, they were able to predict how fulfilling and long-lasting a subject’s marriage would be, their level of wellbeing, and how inspiring they would be to others.

Watch the fascinating TED talk below that reveals the hidden power of your smile and why it’s so important to have fun.

Ron Gutman begins by recounting a study that lasted 30 years where people examined photos of students and determined their level of success based on their smiles.

Another study showed that looking at old baseball cards could help determine how long a player might live based on their smile.

Players who had “beaming smiles” lived to be at least 80 years old, while players who didn’t smile lived to be about 73 years old.

Smiles develop in humans early on and some ultrasound pictures show babies smiling in their mother’s womb. It is an automatic response to the world around us, no matter how dark that world might be.

One study of the Fore tribe in Papua New Guinea found that even people who practiced cannibalism smiled. Even though they were cut off from the rest of the world, they smiled at one another as if to say “ I love you”.

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Children are some of the happiest people on the planet because they are smiling all day long.

Most adults don’t even smile 5 times a day. Imagine not smiling all day. What a world we would live in!

When you spend time with children, you learn to let go of the adult ways and start to let yourself remember how to smile more regularly. Smiling is contagious. It’s hard to be mad at someone who is smiling at you, according to Gutman:

“A recent study at Uppsala University in Sweden found that it’s very difficult to frown when looking at someone who smiles. You ask why? Because smiling is evolutionary contagious, and it suppresses the control we usually have on our facial muscles. Mimicking a smile and experiencing it physically helps us understand whether our smile is fake or real, so we can understand the emotional state of the smiler.”

Smiling actually makes us feel better, according to the king of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin.

“Charles Darwin also wrote the facial feedback response theory. His theory states that the act of smiling itself actually makes us feel better, rather than smiling being merely a result of feeling good. In his study, Darwin actually cited a French neurologist, Guillaume Duchenne, who sent electric jolts to facial muscles to induce and stimulate smiles. Please, don’t try this at home.”

So trying to “fake it til you make it” can be helpful if you are trying to make yourself feel better. Studies have shown that smiling can make you feel better, rather than feeling good and smiling because of those feelings. Gutman explains how:

“Facial feedback modifies the neural processing of emotional content in the brain, in a way that helps us feel better when we smile. Smiling stimulates our brain reward mechanism in a way that even chocolate — a well-regarded pleasure inducer — cannot match.British researchers found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.”

According to Gutman, the benefits of smiling are impressive:

“Smiling can help reduce the level of stress-enhancing hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and dopamine, increase the level of mood-enhancing hormones like endorphins, and reduce overall blood pressure. And if that’s not enough, smiling can actually make you look good in the eyes of others. A recent study at Penn State University found that when you smile, you don’t only appear to be more likable and courteous, but you actually appear to be more competent.”

So the next time you are feeling gloomy, smile at yourself in the mirror, or smile at another person. You’ll be glad you did.

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Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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