Increase your Happiness: Smile

Protected by Copyscape Unique Content Check
Published: 15th April 2009
Views: N/A

Increase your Happiness: Smile

Smile and Others Smile with You:  Health Benefits, Emotional Contagion, and Mimicry

Discover scientifically proven techniques for increasing your happiness, optimism and life satisfaction.  Please go to:

This article originally appeared in

Mahatma Ghandi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." What if
research were to show that people can effect enormous positive changes in their
lives and in the lives of others using a tool they have with them at all times their


How so? you ask. Through a fascinating process called mimicry. Research
conducted in Sweden exposed participants to images of faces while they monitored
their facial muscles through electromyographs (EMGs) [1]. When exposed to happy
faces, participants moved their zygomatic major muscle (used in smiling); when
exposed to sad faces, participants moved their corrugator supercilii muscle (used
in frowning). Participants did this even when the stimuli were hidden and rapidly
presented. Participants were usually unaware that they even moved their muscles.
Drs. Ursula Hess and Slyvie Blairy conducted a study where participants viewed
video clips of a person expressing anger, sadness, disgust and happiness. Results
showed that participants consistently mimicked each of those expressions [2].
These studies supports that when you smile at someone, their muscles maneuver into
a smile as well.

This type of mimicry has strong evolutionary roots. Consider this study on
expressing disgust. Using functional magnetic-resonance imaging (fMRI), Philips et
al. found that hearing the sound of vomit or smelling it activated some of the
same areas of the brain as actually experiencing disgust [3]. Our ancestor's
ability to empathize with and mimic their neighbor's reaction to the funky looking
mushrooms prevented them from wanting to and physically feeling able to eat the
funky mushrooms.

Emotional Contagion

This process is also known as emotional contagion[4]. That is, emotions are
contagious. Feeling good is infectious, and so is feeling crummy. With this in
mind, what change do you want trigger in the world? According to a researcher from
Lund University in Sweden, mimicking a person's bodily state or facial expression
causes physical responses in the receiver's body that are identical to those in
the sender's [1]. That is, when people activate muscle groups that link to
specific emotions, their body will react as though they are really experiencing
that emotion. If you wrinkle your nose and narrow your eyes (see image on the
left) your body will release some adrenaline and your heart rate may speed up as
though you are angry. If you mimic a smile by lifting the creases of your lips and
squinting your eyes, your body will release serotonin, dopamine and other "feelgood"
indicators. In the study by Hess and Blairy, participants reported feeling
more happiness and sadness/depression relative to the video they were watching

Health Benefits of Smiling

Therefore, when you smile at someone else, they smile and you are causing
physiological changes within their bodies. Frequent smiling has many therapeutic
and health benefits [5], particularly when the smile is a Duchenne smile [6].

According to Dr. Mark Stibich, smiling:

Boosts the immune system

Increases positive affect

Reduces stress
Lowers blood pressure

Enhances other people's perception of you

Duchenne smiles are known as authentic smiles because they consistently co-occur
with positive emotions [7]. Duchenne smiles are marked by wrinkles in the eyes
that resemble crows feet and are associated with feeling excitement, amusement,
interest, happiness and joy [8]. (See image on the right in which the top image is
neutral, middle picture is non-genuine/mouth only, and the bottom picture is
Duchenne/eyes and mouth engaged).

A well-known study of Duchenne smiles, conducted at the University of California,
Berkeley, demonstrated the impact of smiling on life satisfaction [9]. Researchers
analyzed the yearbook pictures of 111 smiling women at age 21, fifty of which
displayed authentic-Duchenne smiles. Participants expressing genuine positive
emotions in their yearbook picture were more likely to be married and have higher
well-being than their non-Duchenne smiling classmates. This study was replicated
in Australia in 2006 and demonstrated similar results [10]. Duchenne smiles
correlated with experiencing less negative emotions and increased sense of

The eyes and lips are a powerful weapon that everyone is equipped with at birth.
When used for good, this weapon can exert a significant amount of health and
happiness on the smiler and recipient. So become the center of a positive change
ripple. Squeeze your zigomatic major, squint your orbicularis oculi, and if you
really want to get things flowing, expose your teeth.

Discover scientifically proven techniques for increasing your happiness, optimism and life satisfaction.  Please go to:


[1] Dimberg, U., Thunberg, M., Elmehed, K. (2000). Unconscious facial reactions to
emotional facial expressions. Psychological Science, 11, 1, 86-89.
[2] Hess, U. & Blairy, S. (2001). Facial mimicry and emotional contagion to
dynamic emotional facial expressions and their influence on decoding accuracy.
International Journal of Psychophysiology. 40, 129-141.
[3] Philips, M.L., Williams, L.M., Heining, M., Herba, C.M., Russell, T., Andrew,
C., Bullmore, E.T., Brammer, M.J., Williams, S.C.R., Young, A.W., Gray, J.A.
(2004). Differential neural responses to overt and covert presentations of facial
expressions of fear and disgust. NeuroImage. 21, 1484-1496.
[4] Basch, MF. (1983). Empathic understanding: A review of the concept and some
theoretical considerations. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association.
31,1, 101-126.
[5] Abel, MH, Hester, R. (2002). The therapeutic effects of smiling. In An
empirical reflection on the smile. Mellen studies in psychology, Vol. 4. (pp. 217253).
Lewiston, NY, US: Edwin Mellen Press. xiii, 275 pp.
[6] Surakka, V., & Hietanen, J. K. (1998). Facial and emotional reactions to
Duchenne and non-Duchenne smiles. International Journal of Psychophysiology.29,
[7] Papa, A, & Bonanno, GA. (2008). Smiling in the face of adversity: The
interpersonal and intrapersonal functions of smiling.Emotion. 8,1, 1-12.

[8] Ekman P, Davidson, RJ, Fiesen, WV. (1990). Emotional expression and brain
physiology: II. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 58,2,342-353.
[9] Harker, L., & Keltner, D. (2001). Expressions of positive emotion in women's
college yearbook pictures and their relationship to personality and life outcomes
across adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 80, 112'124.
[10] Gladstone, GL, & Parker, GB. (2002). When you're smiling, does the whole
world smile for you?. Australasian Psychiatry. 10,2, 144-146.

This article is copyright

Report this article Ask About This Article

More to Explore