5 Reasons to Smile

My facial expression when I’m relaxed is apparently not all that happy looking.  But really, smiling takes effort.  Why would it be the default?  Just because I’m not smiling, it doesn’t mean that I’m not happy (holy triple negatives, batman!).

Sheldon's "smile"

And really, is smiling always a good idea?

Googling “smiling” results in a plethora of self-help articles, and may in fact be the reason you’ve stumbled upon my blog, come to think of it.  If that’s what you came for, don’t worry, smiling will solve ALL of your problems.  Is your immune system or blood pressure acting up?  Can’t afford a facelift?  Smiling’s the answer!  (Never mind the fact that About.com doesn’t reference any actual research to back any of these claims.  We’re talking about smiles here.  Smiles are supposed to be good.)

So, partly out of boredom, partially to see if there really was anything to back-up the claims of “smile therapy”, I did some research, and I’ve come up with my own list of reasons to smile.

5 Reasons to Smile (with references so that you don’t have to trust me and can go read science like a scientist):

  1. Smiling could make you look more attractive (refs Otta et al., Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1996; Schmidt et al., Percept Mot Skills, 2012).  Or it could not matter, statistically speaking (ref O’Doherty et al., Neuropsychologia, 2003).  I’d argue in Sheldon Cooper’s case, smiling could make you less attractive… (ref the picture above).
  2. Smiling when you introduce yourself may help that person remember your name (ref Tsukiura and Cabeza, Neuropsychologia, 2008).
  3. Smiling helps with stress, and this is best achieved by forcing yourself to smile by jabbing chopsticks in your mouth (ref Kraft and Pressman, Psychol Sci, 2012). Also, SMILE is the name of a protein involved with the endoplasmic reticulum stress response (ref Racape et al., PLoS One, 2011).
  4. The more intensely you smile, the more trustworthy you look (ref Schmidt et al., Percept Mot Skills, 2012).  Again, I find myself wondering if they’ve ever seen Sheldon Cooper… (ref the picture above).*
  5. Smiling has been associated with decreased physical dominance.  So if you want to come off as less hostile and aggressive, be sure to smile.  However, the flip-side is if you smile, according to science, people won’t bet on you to win a fight (ref Kraus and Chen, Emotion, 2013).

And there you go.  I couldn’t find anything about smiling strengthening the immune system.  Let me know in the comments if you know of anything (…that isn’t About.Com).

Also, for further internet exploration, there’s a really interesting survey on the BBC’s website called, “Spot The Fake Smile”.  I got 14 out of 20 correct – yay for being slightly better than random guessing!  Try it out yourself and see how well you do.

* Perhaps this is unfair to say, since the Schmidt et al. study was done only in women.


Kraft and Pressman, Psychol Sci, 2012: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23012270

Kraus and Chen, Emotion, 2013: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23356564

Otta et al., Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1996: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8823879

O’Doherty et al., Neuropsychologia, 2003: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12459213

Racape et al., PLoS One, 2011: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21603654

Schmidt et al., Percept Mot Skills, 2012: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22913033

Tsukiura and Cabeza, Neuropsychologia, 2008: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18455740

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3 Responses to 5 Reasons to Smile

  1. I have the opposite problem… I always look like I am smiling even when I am not happy. And it isn’t a happy smile so much as a smug, I know something you don’t smile. So I grew a mustache when I was 14 and I am never going to shave it off.

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