Smiling, like viral infections, is both contagious and prevented by masks. It’s hard not to catch a smile when the person you’re interacting with is in a good mood, but since masks came into style I’ve smiled a lot less. I can’t see anyone’s faces so I’ve caught many fewer smiles, and I’ve smiled less myself--why bother if no one can see it?
And all of this is, of course, on top of the increased anxiety I’ve been feeling anytime I leave my house. With the everyday stress of living through a pandemic, it’s no wonder we’re smiling less.
But laughter is the best medicine, and smiling is a close second. By allowing ourselves to smile less deeply and less frequently, we may have unknowingly been depriving ourselves of an effective solution for our mental and physical health worries.
Why should I smile?
Nothing resolves the tension in a stressful situation like a bit of humor or the thought of a loved one, but the relationship between positive mood and smiling isn’t one-way. We smile when we’re happy, but we also become happy when we smile. Recent research has shown that faking a smile while performing stressful tasks has comparable stress relief and recovery benefits to a genuine smile. Another study has found that smiling before or after negative self-thoughts can reduce negative mood and boost positive mood.
When you’re more relaxed and less stressed, your immune system gets a boost, so smiling for increased well-being will land you a healthier immune function too. This is because stress is part of the sympathetic nervous system, better known as the fight-or-flight response, in which all body functions non-essential to immediate survival are put on hold. Those non-essential functions include digestion, immunity and other crucial parts of long-term health. By calming your stress response and activating your parasympathetic, or rest-and-digest, nervous system you can introduce long-term gains in immunity.
The release in endorphins caused by smiling leads to a higher pain threshold, and can have relieving effects on both acute and chronic pain.
Boost Mood + Well-being
Smiling when you’re down can trick your body into thinking you’re in a better mood, which actually brings about that better mood. Make a conscious effort to smile more and smile randomly, and you’ll find yourself in a more positive frame of mind.
Build Strong Relationships
People prefer to be around positive individuals, and our facial expressions are the primary way we communicate our positivity. A genuine smile will help you to forge new and stronger relationships. Worried about producing a genuine smile? Follow the advice above and smile your way into a genuinely positive outlook.