Smiling: A Surprisingly Simple Way to Boost Your Mood

Thich Nhat Hanh was a Buddhist monk, mindfulness teacher, and peace activist.

He was also a prolific author, and in his writing, he often emphasized the importance of smiling.

Here’s an example from his book Peace is Every Step1:

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 to us the peace we thought we had lost.

Interestingly, there’s plenty of research that supports this idea. Smiling can indeed influence our emotions in a positive way.

The Science of Smiling

In a clever study conducted in the 80s2, researchers had their participants hold a pen in their mouths in one of two ways:

  • Group 1 held a pen between their lips, resulting in a frown.
  • Group 2 held a pen between their teeth, resulting in a smile.

They then did a series of tasks before the researchers asked them to rate a cartoon.

It turned out that the “smiling” group found the cartoon significantly funnier than the “frowning” group did.

This supported the researcher’s hypothesis that “people’s facial activity influences their affective responses.”

And subsequent research has provided more support for this idea. For instance, studies have found that smiling can:

  • Relieve stress3
  • Boost your mood4
  • Strengthen your immune system5
  • Reduce pain6
  • Make you more attractive7
  • Extend your life8

Plus, smiling is contagious9. So, when you smile, you help others experience the same benefits as you. How amazing is that?

Joy Creates Smiles & Smiles Creates Joy

The following quote by Thich Nhat Hanh beautifully summarizes the essence of this article:

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.

So, as you go about your days, do it with a “tiny bud of a smile” on your lips.

It will release tension in your face, your mind, your body — and in everyone around you.

Footnotes

  1. Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
  2. Inhibiting and Facilitating Conditions of the Human Smile: A Nonobtrusive Test of the Facial Feedback Hypothesis
  3. Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response
  4. Your Face and Moves Seem Happier When I Smile
  5. Smile — It’s in Your Blood!
  6. Smile (or Grimace) Through the Pain? The Effects of Experimentally Manipulated Facial Expressions on Needle-Injection Responses
  7. Facial Attractiveness: Evolutionary Based Research
  8. Smile Intensity in Photographs Predicts Longevity
  9. Fashioning the Face: Sensorimotor Simulation Contributes to Facial Expression Recognition