Friday, October 22, 2010

Smiling for happiness and health

The Dalai Lama gave a teaching recently. The final question asked of him was, “What can we give to you?” He beamed at the audience. "That is easy," he said. "Just give me your smiles. It makes me feel good when I see people smile at me. And if you smile at each other that would also be very good. So please give me your smiles.”

Smiles are life enhancing :-)

Smiles are life enhancing! A huge body of research backs up that smiles make you feel good, provide long lasting health effects, positively influence those around you and can even make you live longer.

In one study (Smile to Live Longer) Professors Ernest L. Abel and Michael L. Kruger at Wayne State University found that the larger your smile, the longer you may live. Controlling for confounding effects such as education, marital status etc., the retrospective case study found that those subjects who smiled the most lived up to 7 years longer than those who didn’t smile at all. That’s a full seven years of additional happiness filled with smiles! Makes me smile just thinking about it :-) and certainly seems life enhancing to me!

Smiles engender smiles

Other Social Psychology research on social mimicry and emotional contagion has shown that smiles engender smiles back from others. This leads to self-reinforcing positive relationships. These in turn influence your mood and your outcomes with others.

Smiles are healthy

In the field of Psycho-Neuro-Immunology - the study of how thoughts and feelings influence our immune function and vice versa - the effects of smiles and positive mood on increasing immune function has been very well documented. Smiling increases immune cell activity and function. It’s been shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. It’s healthy to smile!

Smiles make you feel good

In one classic experiment by Strack, Martin and Stepper (1988):
“subjects were told they were taking part in a study to determine the difficulty for people without the use of their hands or arms to accomplish certain tasks, participants held a pen in their mouth in one of three ways. The Lip position would contract the orbicularis oris muscle, resulting in a frown. The Teeth position would cause the zygomaticus major or the risorius muscle, resulting in a smile. The control group would hold the pen in their nondominant hand. All had to fill a questionnaire in that position and rate the difficulty involved. The last task, which was the real objective of the test, was the subjective rating of the funniness of a cartoon. The test differed from previous methods in that there were no emotional states to emulate, dissimulate or exaggerate. As predicted, participants in the Teeth condition reported significantly higher amusement ratings than those in the Lips condition. The cover story and the procedure were found to be very successful at initiating the required contraction of the muscles without arising suspicion.”

This experiment has been repeated many times and has robustly shown that simply emulating a smile produces measurable changes in neuro-hormones, rated levels of happiness and other physiological measures of positive affect. You don’t even have to be smiling on the inside to get the positive effects, though of course imagine the amplification of these positive effects when you are really smiling and not just holding your mouth and face muscles in the position of a smile.

More reasons to smile

And if all this isn’t enough to make you smile, then check out ‘Little Known Reasons and Benefits of Smiling’ for 33 more reasons to smile :-) or take a read of ‘Smile! The Remarkable Personal Benefits of Smiling’ for more information about research on the benefits of smiling.

The Inner Smile Exercise

Here’s a great exercise that I came across and have been using that combines NLP with deep insights from the ancient philosophy of Taoism. The Inner Smile exercise works amazingly well to positively align and influence your head brain with your heart and enteric (gut) brains through a process of inner smiling.

  1. Sit comfortably, hands joined. Focus on your breath until you are breathing gently, smoothly, deeply, evenly, calmly and softly. Relax your forehead, let your eyes, ears and tongue soften. Allow your face to become expressionless.
  2. Imagine yourself in one of your favorite, most beautiful places in the world surrounded by the vitality of nature. Begin to smile, as you experience the joy and happiness of this favorite place. Amplify your smile, feel it in your face, your mouth, your eyes.
  3. Let your smiling awareness flow down over the cheeks, down through the jaw muscles and tongue, and down through the neck and throat, soothing and calming as it goes.
  4. Smile down to the thymus gland in your chest and into your heart. Sense them open like a flower in the morning with love, joy and happiness bubbling out of them.
  5. Smile down to the rest of your organs: lungs, liver, pancreas, spleen, kidney, sexual organs and reproductive system. Thank each of them for their work in protecting you and keeping you vibrant, alive and healthy.
  6. Return awareness to your eyes and recharge the energy of your smile, drawing in more of the limitless golden light of the energy around you in whichever way you sense it. Amplify this as before.
  7. Roll your tongue around your mouth until you have gathered some saliva. Smile to the saliva and draw the smiling energy and golden light into the saliva transforming it into healing nectar. Really feel this. Really taste the golden sweet smile into your saliva.
  8. Swallow the saliva in two or three easy positive gulps. Follow it with awareness down your esophagus, smiling as it goes, feeling the healing nectar soothing and refreshing your esophagus.
  9. Continue smiling through the rest of your digestive tract: your stomach, small intestine, gall bladder, large intestine, rectum, anus, bladder and urethra. Thank these organs for their work in giving you energy through ingestion, digestion, absorption and elimination.
  10. Return your awareness once more to your smile and your eyes and recharge your smiling energy, directing it all around you in this, one of your favorite, most beautiful places in the world.
  11. Return to the here and now, filled in heart, mind, body and soul with your inner smile - filled with the joy of life deep within you now.
[Adapted from: The Inner Smile Exercise - Inner smile meditation]

Give this exercise a go right now. It's wonderful how it works and how powerfully it influences your heart brain and gut brains to calm them, balance them and fill them with joy. [You know you have more than just a brain in your head, you have complex, adaptive and functional neural networks in your heart and gut, and you can learn to tap into and align their innate and intuitive wisdom as explained in my book with Marvin, mBraining]

And remember as you smile, that Mahatma Gandhi said,

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

many life enhancing smiles,


  1. Love this post, Grant! Smiles make a huge difference. I've experimented and know that smiling can change your whole day. One time I was in a queue at the airport. People, one after the other, were walking up to the security guy with a negative expression on their faces; and he was looking very stressed indeed. Everyone was miserable. I was exhausted, but I decided that when it was my turn I would walk up to him with a big smile and a cheerful greeting. It completely turned him around, and I felt sure the people in the queue after me would be getting much better treatment than those who had been in front of me! And MY day improved as well.

  2. Hey Jean and Sully, thanks for the smiles and comments :-)

    You're right Jean, smiles do make a huge difference! Great story, and I'll bet your smile made an ongoing difference to the security guy that rippled throughout his day and his interactions with subsequent travelers.

    I make a conscious habit to do 'smiley driving' when I'm in peak hour traffic, 'smiley shopping' when I'm in a crowded supermarket and 'smiley walking' when I'm walking through the City streets.

    And I also set an outcome to get the people I interact with in Shops and Service Outlets to smile.

    What this creates is an ongoing delight in my life whereby I get and give wonderful smiley responses and life enhancing interactions throughout every day.

    So thanks for loving this post and sharing that feedback. It truly made me smile :-D

    life enhancing wishes

  3. Hey Grant, enjoyed reading this. Made me smile! More convinced as to the value of a smile than before, and always thought they were good value. Liked Jean's story. I've had many similar experiences.

    Thought I should challenge something in the reference to the study by Strack, Martin and Stepper, however. In the Lip group it states that contracting the orbicularis oris would result in a frown. I don't think this is correct. It would make it more difficult to smile though as the action of orbicularis oris is anatagonist to the zygomaticus major! Interestingly, part of the action of orbicularis oris is to purse the lips as to kiss, usually associated with a pleasurable activity (unless its Christmas and you're puckering up to the ancient aunt who's breath smells like ...)

    Mick (wishing he was in paradise)

  4. Heya Mick, ewwhhh smelly breathed auntie kisses would certainly make it hard to smile. Great points and thanks for the anatomical details. On this blog we like as much accuracy as we can get!

    big smiles,

  5. As always, lov your post & I just wanna say that smile is the key or the password for all the closing doors in our lives ..:)

  6. Hi Hamda, thanks muchly for your kind and positive feedback and yes, so true, a smile is the key for so so many doors in our lives!

    best wishes, Grant

  7. It's a nice article. Everyone should read. Thanks for sharing. For more amazing information you may get from this link Smiling Face And Long Life


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