If you were never allowed to frown again, do you think you would live a happier life? As it turns out, smiling can change your mood all on its own. Several studies have shown that the sheer act of smiling might just be enough to make you feel happier, even if, on the inside, it feels like everything is going wrong. The science behind smiling is all about the connection between your facial muscles and your brain activity, and it will truly make you rethink the legitimacy of the "fake it til' you make it" motto.
According to Psychology Today, when you smile — more specifically, once your facial muscles contract in a certain way, thus giving the appearance of smiling — what you're really doing is triggering a positive feedback loop in your brain, in which you're rewarded with positive feelings. This feedback loop is literally a loop: When you're happy, you smile, and vice versa — you smile, you get feelings of happiness.
This isn't to say that all happiness is created equal. Every time you smile, you're not automatically going to feel like you won the lottery. But to give you some added perspective on this, Forbes reports that a smile can release more rewarding and pleasurable feelings in your body than a bite of chocolate, which is a known stimulant that makes people happy. It sounds a little hard to believe, I know, but the science behind this seems to assert it's true.
Smiling more often, even if it's a conscious effort, is likely to make you a happier person overall.
Again, though, not all smiles are created equal. According to research from the Association for Psychological Science, in order to reap the full benefits of that positive feedback loop, you need to have a Duchenne smile, which is a smile so big it involves facial muscles around your eyes, rather than a social smile, which is that slight-upturn-in-the-lips look you might give a co-worker you don't feel like talking to.
But smiling doesn't just make you feel happy on a superficial level; it can also help decrease stress, lowering your heart rate and your blood pressure in the process, according to Psychology Today. What's more, the endorphins can even act as a pain-reliever.
If you're not already floored by the power of a simple smile, fear not: The happiness only goes up from here.
Smiles not only create a positive feedback loop for you, but also for everyone around you.
According to a 2016 study published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, smiles and frowns are both contagious acts: Since humans are naturally social creatures, we have an inclination to mirror the moods around us. So, if your friends see you smiling, their subconscious urge to mimic your facial expressions will lead them to smile as well, and before you know it, you've got a chain of happiness spreading throughout your immediate surroundings. This innate ability to recognize and copy the emotions of people around you is also part of what allows us as humans to empathize with others, according to this research.
So, the next time you're in a stressful situation, and your heart rate is through the roof, it might be worth your time to consider one of the simplest solutions: a smile. In fact, according to a 2003 study run by researchers at Clark University, a smile, even a forced one, just might bring on some happy memories you haven't thought about in a while, and who knows — it really could turn your whole mood around.
Of course, radiating happiness isn't always easy, and let's be clear: If you don't feel like smiling, don't let someone make you feel like you have to. But if you're totally out of ideas for how to turn your mood around, you might want to give it a try.