Smiling is contagious and it’s also one our very first facial expressions. Today we’re looking at what makes a smile so powerful and how by being more like a baby we can elevate our own mood and boost our immune systems.
There are many reasons to smile more and many aphorisms have risen to attest this –
- It costs nothing but creates much
- It happens in a flash but can last a lifetime
- It cannot be bought, begged, borrowed or stolen, for it is something that has no earthly good to anybody until it is given away
- Nobody needs a smile so much as those who have none left to give
A true smile can never be never be faked: that was the conclusion that the French scientist commonly known as Duchenne de Boulogne came to after conducting experiments during the 19th century.
He used electrical stimulation to create a fake smile and would then elicit a real smile by telling his subject a joke. The difference was striking. What he discovered was that a real smile causes the muscles around the eyes to contract.
Duchenne was an early adopter of photography and used it to his full advantage. He would capture the facial muscle contractions of his subjects using electrical probes and they often resulted in distorted and grotesque expressions. He published his findings in 1862, along with many of the photographs, in the book The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression.
His aim throughout these experiments was to capture the very “conditions that aesthetically constitute beauty”, and he referred to those expressions as “the gymnastics of the soul”. He faced critique for using one model, the old man, and retorted that “every face could become spiritually beautiful throughout the accurate rendering of his or her emotions” he also noted that the patient’s face was numb and he couldn’t feel anything anyway.
Duchenne’s discovery of the eyes’ relationship to real smiles cemented his name’s association with grinning because we now refer to a genuine smile as a “Duchenne smile”. However, a study in 2009 suggested that they can be faked. But, they hint at the fact that it is a skill that varies from person to person.
Scientists have found that there are 19 different types of smiles and that we can detect smiles more than 300 feet away.
As babies in utero, there are some facial expressions we practice well before the day of our birth. Way back in week 31 we found out that babies practice crying whilst in utero and similar studies have found the same to be true of smiling. In fact, some think it may be one of our very first facial expressions. So far though, it’s not yet known whether a baby’s facial expression correlates with how they feel.
It’s been noted that if you smile, the whole world smiles with you and science would seem to agree. We have a set of neurons in our brains called Mirror Neurons. Mirror neurons act as a neural Wi-Fi system, constantly monitoring everything that the other person is saying and doing. They act as a synchronising system and activate the same parts of the listener’s brain as those of the speakers.
BONUS FACT #2
One study found that smiles are more attractive than makeup! 69% of participants found women wearing a smile more attractive than when they were wearing makeup.
On average an adult will smile approximately 20 times a day, with some studies showing that could be even lower if you’re a man, suggesting the average man will only smile 8 times a day. One thing we do know is that women smile more than men, suggesting it could be as high as 60 times a day. The one thing that has come from all those studies is how often they think the average child smiles in a day – up to 400 times!
Whether you’ve perfected the art of the fake “Duchenne Smile” or you’re just of a happy disposition and smiling comes easily, there are many great reasons to smile. Smiling has been shown to reduce stress, improve your immune system, reduces blood pressure and can help your heart during times of stress. Smiling is known to cause an endorphin release and because of this, smiling can ease pain. Endorphins have a calming effect and affect the same parts of your brain as morphine.
Smiling can have positive effects on your physiology and that of others, but one person often gets overlooked when it comes to smiling – ourselves. Mantak Chia, a Taoist Master is noted as saying that in ancient China, Taoists taught something called the Inner Smile. A smile to oneself insured health, happiness and longevity. Smiling to yourself is like basking in love; you become your own best friend. Living with an inner smile is to live in harmony with yourself.