The Science Of The Smile: How This One Habit Can Change Your Life

Do you ever wonder why seeing someone else smile makes you feel happier or kinder, even if just for a moment?

By Noelle Ottinger3 min read
Shutterstock/Shift Drive

Scientific research has concluded that this simple gesture could potentially be the gateway to a happier and healthier you.

What’s in a Smile?

The muscles responsible for smiling are incredible — not only because it takes less muscle activation to smile than to frown, but because specific muscles are responsible for either a genuine smile or a “social” smile (read: fake smile).

Specific muscles are responsible for either a genuine smile or a “social” smile (read: fake smile).

The social smile can be seen as the “mouth-only” smile, where the corners of your mouth turn up. The muscle involved in this type of smile is the zygomaticus major, and it's activated when we're surrounded by people or situations we know we should appear as pleasant (family photos, anyone?).

A genuine smile, or the Duchenne smile — named after the French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne — can be spotted with the closing of the eyes and the activation of the orbicularis oculi. This type of smile is the real deal and is responsible for the production of the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin.

This is the smile where others can tell we're genuinely enjoying the situation and people around us, such as seeing your best friend whom you haven’t seen in a long time. The joy and excitement trigger neuronal signals from the cortex of your brain to the brainstem. The cranial muscles are then engaged, causing a positive feedback loop from your brain, which enforces more feelings of positivity and joy.

Reasons Worth Smiling For

Reduced Stress and Increased Immunity: The Department of Clinical Immunology at Loma Linda University found that the serum cortisol levels (stress hormones) decrease while smiling, causing us to become more relaxed and better able to handle tough situations with ease. Additionally, the number of white blood cells increases, which helps fight any infections such as colds.

Serum cortisol levels (stress hormones) decrease while smiling.

You Live Longer: Not only are you able to fight off the common cold just by smiling, but you can also potentially live longer if you’re more cheerful. London University College suggests that happier individuals live 35% longer because of the decreased blood pressure and heart rates among smiling individuals.

Natural Pain Killer: Researchers from Oxford University found that smiling acts as a natural pain killer, as it releases endorphins and serotonin. Laughing also increases our pain threshold, and as the old proverb goes, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.”

We're More Naturally Beautiful When We Smile

Smiling is a universal sign of approachability and warmth, and it's no wonder that women who smile more are deemed more attractive by men. In a 2013 study, participants were shown morphed photos of individuals to make them appear less attractive and compared the photos to the more attractive, un-morphed version. The participants rated the morphed photos where the individuals were smiling as more attractive compared to the non-smiling untouched photos.

Smiling is a universal sign of approachability and warmth.

Natural Ways To Brighten Our Smile

  • Oil-Pulling: As bizarre as it sounds, swishing oil in your mouth to remove yellow stains has been a tradition in India, and people have seen a difference in their smile with regular oil-pulling. Try using coconut oil, or sesame oil, which has been claimed to reduce streptococcus mutans and other bacteria in as little as one week. Take 1 teaspoon of coconut oil and allow it to melt in your mouth, swish around for at least two minutes a couple of times a week and watch the whiteness appear!

  • Brushing with Baking Soda: Naturally found in toothpaste, baking soda is a mild abrasive that gradually erases surface stains over time. Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda with 2 teaspoons of water and use a few times a week.

  • Use Strawberries: Not just a healthy addition to your diet, brushing with strawberries and baking soda has been a popular natural tooth-whitening trend used by celebrities such as Catherine Zeta-Jones. It has been proposed that the malic acid found in strawberries coupled with the baking soda buffs away stains. Smash one strawberry and 1 teaspoon of baking soda together and apply to your toothbrush not more than a couple of times a week.

  • Hydrogen Peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide is a natural bleaching agent that works to kill bacteria in your mouth and is found in most commercial toothpaste brands. It's suggested to use a lower concentration at home by combining equal parts water and hydrogen peroxide as a mouthwash before you brush your teeth. Another way to use hydrogen peroxide is to combine it with baking soda to make a paste. Mix 2 teaspoons of hydrogen peroxide with 1 teaspoon of baking soda and gently brush your teeth a few times per week.

Closing Thoughts

Smiling may take practice for some, but whatever season of life you are in there are always reasons to smile and to be thankful. If you choose to focus on the positive events in your life and look back at the good memories, smiling will come easier. I dare you to try smiling today at your family, your coworkers, or the stranger at the coffee shop and watch the difference not only in your life but the lives of those around you!