THOMPSON: Why the simple act of smiling could extend your life | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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THOMPSON: Why the simple act of smiling could extend your life



How much do you smile? We’ve all heard that it takes more muscles to frown than smile…as if saving energy is the reason to be happy. Besides, the truth is the numbers of muscles involved depends on what kind of frown and what kind of smile. Seems they’re all different…with some frowns using fewer muscles…and some smiles using fewer.

And yes, among enumerable studies by researchers around the world, there are facts and science galore that indicate we should be smiling…a lot more.

Maybe we should forget how many muscles we’re using…and smile more for more important reasons. Smiling might well be our most effective, lowest-cost natural drug.

Research shows that smiling is highly associated with happy people…and happy people live longer. That alone should convince us to smile, but there’s more. Smiling lowers stress. A smile - even when forced - can bring happiness.

A smile activates pathways in our brains that influences our emotional states. We can actually "trick" our brains into entering a state of happiness…with a simple smile…genuine or not.

Our brains release neuropeptides that improve our neural communication…including neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which tend to put us in better moods. Think of a smile as an antidepressant…and if this drug becomes addictive…so much the better.

Edward Diener, a psychologist and professor, studied happiness for more than 30 years - so much that he was often called “Dr. Happiness” in the media - and proved that the frequency of our positive experiences is more responsible for our happiness than the intensity of those experiences.

In other words, buying a new car isn’t as likely to bring you the depth and lasting happiness as doing a few nice things every day. So, wear your comfortable shoes, flash a smile to passersby, sneak an Oreo from you kid’s stash of cookies. Yeah, it’s small stuff…but the small stuff accumulates and reflects our lives…and that’s the stuff that matters.

Happiness is elusive for so many people…perhaps because we make it harder than it is. Consider, for example, losing weight…something I’ve done the past year to the tune of 50 pounds. We all know the secret to dropping pounds is eat less and exercise more…and that secret really is no secret at all.

I discovered that I didn’t have to eat a lot less or exercise a lot more to make a difference…it added up. The secret is consistency…continuity. Same thing with happiness…you don’t have to do a lot more…just smile and be the first to say, “hello” to someone…every day. Engage people in a friendly way…it will change your life for the better.

Those who fancy science might find it interesting that researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found smiles fall into six categories…three self-oriented and three projected toward others.

Specifically, the self-oriented smiles include the Duchenne smile - named for 19th-century French scientist Duchenne de Boulogne - that reaches the eyes and seems truly genuine. There is the flirty, coy smile…usually with head turned with a look out of the corner of the eyes. And, there’s the amused smile…the ones you see after a good joke.

The three projected to others include the love smile, often with a tilted head and softened eyes, the interested smile, with raised eyebrows and a slight grin, and the embarrassed smile, often with the eyes cast downward.

This is purely anecdotal, but I often smile at folks when I’m in the grocery store or on the street as I run errands around town and almost always they return that smile. Smiling is contagious…in a non-flu-like way.

If you have a blood pressure monitor, take a reading without smiling…and then one after thinking of something that makes you smile. I’ve done this…my blood pressure drops.

Another thing I’ve found over decades is that people - all of us - are more attractive when smiling. You look younger…and people react more positively to you and listen more intently to what you say when you smile. All other things equal, during my career I won clients for my advertising and public relations firm…with genuine smiles.

Perhaps we should learn from our children. A typical five-year-old averages 400 smiles a day. Adults that identify as “being happy” with their lives smile 40 times a day. The typical adult…20 smiles a day. Hmmmm.

Heads up…October 6 is World Smile Day. Harvey Ball - the guy who created the yellow Smiley Face in 1963 - started the day in 1999. So, practice.

Here’s a challenge for you…tomorrow. Try smiling more. Smile at people you know…people you don’t know…when you’re out and about. Throw in a “hello” or “how are you?”…it won’t hurt. Then, at the end of the day…contemplate how your day went…how you feel. Then consider how even one of your smiles made a recipient feel.

What’s in it for you? Happier, longer life. Yeah, I’ll stop there.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.

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