by Dawn Stanyon
You may be having a bad day: Car broke down? Late for a meeting? Late on a project? Drizzled coffee down the front of your new white shirt? You need something positive, stat. The good news is that you can feel a bit better by taking one simple action: Smile.
Humans smile to communicate positive emotions, elicit responses and, surprisingly, demonstrate that we are non-threatening and submissive (Barbara and Allen Pease, The Definitive Book of Body Language). You’ve no doubt read that when we smile at someone, they can’t help but smile back because of the “mirror neuron” in the brain: we automatically copy others’ facial expressions. Also, people find people who smile more attractive, so it’s not surprising we smile at others. We all understand why we might “fake” smile to make someone else feel better or to be perceived in a positive manner, but what about making yourself feel better?
If you smile in spite of your personal annoyances and pit falls, you can change your brain chemistry for the positive. The act of smiling releases neuropeptides – molecules that enable neurons to communicate – which release dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. These neurotransmitters relax us (ahhhh!) and actually lower heart rate and blood pressure. Serotonin also serves as an anti-depressant. Even if the smile is contrived and hard won, you gain these benefits.
We readily acknowledge that we all have wretched days, weeks, months (years?). All ills cannot be cured by a fleeting smile. However, you can positively change your brain chemistry, even if only in the short term.
Why not create a concrete goal for yourself? Not to “be happier” but to make yourself smile X number of times per day. Next time you’re (choose one) annoyed/enraged/glum/overwhelmed, smile. You’ll make your day just a wee bit better and no doubt make those around you feel better as well.
And if you really want to take the next step, try laughing. In a study, Neurologist Henri Rubenstein found that one minute of laughter leads to 45 minutes of relaxation. Need a laugh? Here, watch this.