The Simple Habit That Will Make You Happy, Backed by Research
In his book, Peace is Every Step (1), the Buddhist monk, author and peace activist Thích Nhất Hạnh writes:
When I see someone smile, I know immediately that he or she is dwelling in awareness.
This half-smile, how many artists have labored to bring it to the lips of countless statues and paintings?
I am sure the same smile must have been on the faces of the sculptors and painters as they worked.
Can you imagine an angry painter giving birth to such a smile?
Mona Lisa’s smile is light, just a hint of a smile.
Yet even a smile like that is enough to relax all the muscles in our face, to banish all worries and fatigue.
A tiny bud of a smile on our lips nourishes awareness and calms us miraculously. It returns us to the peace we thought we had lost.
The Science of Smiles
We all know that when we feel happy, we tend to smile. But did you know that this works the other way around, too?
Just like Hạnh suggests, a gentle smile seems to have the power to “banish all worries and fatigue.”
When we smile, it causes us to feel happy.
Within the science community, this idea dates all the way back to Charles Darwin. He was one of the first to suggest that physiological changes caused by an emotion had a direct impact ON, rather than being just the consequence OF that emotion (2).
In modern science, this idea is called “The Facial Feedback Hypothesis,” and states that:
“Facial expressions are not only the results of our emotions but are also capable of influencing our emotions. In other words, the act of smiling can itself actually make you feel happier.” (3)
The Benefits of Smiling
According to behavior change expert Mark Stibich, research has shown smiling can (4):
Make you more attractive to others. People who smile draws us in.
Relieve stress. Smiling can reduce stress even if you don’t feel like smiling or even KNOW that you are smiling.
Elevate your mood. A smile can trigger the release of mood-boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
Elevate the moods of others. Since we tend to mimic the facial expressions of those around us, your smile can make the people around you happier, too.
Boost our immune system. The act of smiling relaxes you, which helps your immune system to function more efficiently.
Lower blood pressure. When you smile, there is a measurable reduction in your blood pressure.
Make you feel good. Smiling is a natural anti-depressant. Studies have shown that smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers, and serotonin that makes you feel good.
So, you don’t need a “reason” to smile. The smile itself is reason enough.
With all these benefits in mind, we should aim to smile more often in our lives.
I suggest we set up our daily smile therapy using exercises like:
The Wake Up Smile — When your alarm goes off in the morning, spend a couple of minutes smiling. Be grateful for the fact that you get to spend another day in this world.
The Meditation Smile — Every time you sit down to meditate, do it with a light smile on your lips.
The Morning Walk Smile — When you head out the door in the morning, meet the world with a smile. Spend a couple of minutes walking and counting the blessings in your life.
The Greeting Smile — When you’re about to meet a friend, take a minute to reflect on how happy you are to have this person in your life. Then greet him or her with a contagious smile.
The Telephone Smile — Each time your telephone rings, pause for a couple of seconds and smile. The conversation will be much better for it.
The “Walk In The Door” Smile — No matter what your day has been like, greet your family/friends/cat with a smile when you come home. Make a point out of always telling them about the best thing that happened that day as soon as you walk in the door (5). This will start you evening off on a positive note.
The Goodnight Smile — Spend the last minutes of your day smiling. Think about what went well that day and why. Drift off to sleep with a smile on your face.
These are just some examples, of course. Hopefully, they’ll inspire you to create your own smile therapy exercises.
Let’s get our Mona Lisa on! 🙂
“A smile is happiness you’ll find right under your nose.”