World Smile Day highlights the benefits of smiling

World Smile Day

World Smile Day, celebrated on Oct. 6 this year, reminds us of the benefits in health and happiness we can achieve through smiling.

The day was launched in 1999 by Harvey Ball, who created the smiley face icon in 1963 for a State Mutual Life Assurance Co. (now Hanover Insurance) campaign designed to increase the morale of the company’s employees. The smiley face has become one of the world’s most popular emojis and icons. But in spite of its widespread use, Ball was only paid $45 for the design, since he never copyrighted or trademarked it.

The purpose of World Smile Day is to do an act of kindness to help one person smile. But it also reminds us of how the act of smiling can be beneficial every day. Ron Gutman, an inventor, Stanford professor and healthcare entrepreneur, highlights the benefits in The Hidden Power of Smiling, a TEDex talk he gave that has had more than 6.2 million views. Gutman includes scientific studies promoting the benefits of smiling in his brief seven-minute video, but even more research has been conducted since he gave the talk in 2011.

What the research shows

Some of the research on smiles includes:

  • A University of Kansas study that divided 169 students into three groups that held chopsticks in their mouths to replicate a full smile, standard smile or neutral facial expression. They were then asked to perform two stressful tasks. The researchers discovered that although all the students’ heart rates spiked while performing the stressful tasks, the heart rates of the two groups who smiled recovered more quickly than those who didn’t.
  • A famous study of baseball player photographs on baseball cards in which two Wayne State University researchers examined 230 photos from 1952 and divided them into three groups. They found that those who smiled in their photos lived, on average, five years longer than those with partial smiles and seven years longer than those who didn’t smile at all. The study, released in 2010, was replicated and extended by University of Leipzig researchers, who questioned the results, however.
  • Another study, done by Mathew Hertenstein, a psychology professor at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., focused on the divorce rates of 600 former students based on their college yearbook photos. He and his three colleagues found that the more people smiled, the more they were likely to remain married, with the weakest 10 percent of smilers five times more likely to be divorced than those with the happiest smiles.

Smiling can be good for your well being

What, exactly, does all this mean?

It means that smiling is good for your health and happiness. In fact, smiling can do a lot to make your life better. It can, among other things:

  • Help you deal with stress, as the University of Kansas study shows. The scientific evidence behind this is that smiling prompts the brain to release neuropeptides. And these neuropeptides help to reduce stress levels.
  • Assist you in making decisions. Happiness can trigger the release of dopamine. And studies have shown that dopamine, along with serotonin that is also a result of happiness, can help you be a more effective decision maker.
  • Make you seem more approachable and friendly. Smile at people, and they’ll smile back and may be more willing to talk to you.
  • Cause people to think you are younger than you are. In a study conducted at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, 38 college students categorized photos of men as young or old. Those with smiling faces were judged to be younger than those without.

So remember to put on a smile for World Smile Day – and every day before and after that. You’ll be sure to brighten yours and other peoples’ lives.

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