After 4 months on Insight Timer, we have started to look at themes and ideas that are proving most popular with our listeners. We have been intrigued that Smile which is part of our 10 Day’s of Peace course has had 15,000 plays and we consistently have feedback and reviews about its simplicity and effectiveness. What has occurred to us is that many of us have simply forgotten to smile and when we are reminded, we are amazed by how something so natural and straightforward could improve our day.
Smiling has well documented therapeutic effects like lowering stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and increasing mood-boosting endorphins. One study found that smiling can produce as much brain stimulation as 2,000 chocolate bars or £16,000 in cash – even reading that statistic makes me smile.
There are countless studies on the benefits of smiling and researchers can point to measurable physical benefits of smiling like lowering blood pressure, stress relief and mood elevation as well as more intangible benefits like appearing more attractive and successful.
In one study that examined the smiles of American students in an old yearbook, researchers measured the student’s well-being and success throughout their lives. By measuring the smiles in the photographs the researchers were able to predict: how fulfilling and long lasting their marriages would be, how highly they would score on standardized tests of well-being and general happiness, and how inspiring they would be to others. The widest smilers consistently ranked highest in all of the above.
Researcher Andrew Newberg in his book “Words Can Change Your Brain” found that the smile is the most powerful facial expressions that we carry.
“We know that smiling is a very powerful gesture; we were doing a research study looking at different symbols, and the symbol that was rated with the highest positive emotional content was the smiley face. The painting of the Mona Lisa is one particular example of that feeling of calmness.”
We even smile in the womb – isn’t that remarkable? We as a species are smiling on the way in! We then develop the language of emoji and continue to smile across all platforms (check this real time emoji tracker to see how many people are currently smiling virtually on twitter – it’s a lot).
I am a smiler, but I do know that we can be, let’s say, persuaded out of the habit by cultural mores. I am also a Londoner and it’s not considered ok to engage in eye contact, chatting or smiling whilst getting around the city. I have found, however, that a well-timed and genuine smile is always returned, even in our rather dour city. We are wired to smile back at a smiling face, the part of our brain responsible for controlling our smile is an unconscious response area – someone smiles, we will automatically smile back, in fact, to NOT smile back requires a huge amount of effort and intention – anecdotally I would say that even in London on a rainy rush hour morning, the vast majority of people smile back, and why not, it makes every body feel a little bit better. Mother Theresa said that Peace begins with a Smile. I think that’s probably right.