Practice of the Week
NOTE: This post is addressed to people in general. That's very different from telling a particular person to smile. Women, in particular, are often subjected to unwanted advice to "smile" -- which reinforces sexist societal expectations that women must serve and please men by, among other things, always appearing cheerful. While both men and women may benefit from smiling more, telling another individual to smile is not appropriate.
"A warm smile is the universal language of kindness." (William Arthur Ward)
Adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing.
Smiling has many benefits:
- Thinking of things that make you smile -- like people you love, silly moments, stupid pet tricks, funny movies -- helps you feel better right on the spot. Plus it calms down the stress response and releases wholesome neurochemicals like dopamine and natural opioids (e.g., endorphins).
- Researchers have found that the facial movements of smiling -- independent of what a person actually feels inside -- prompt the person to evaluate the world more positively (Niedenthal 2007).
- Smiling and the good feelings it encourages promote approach behaviors, a fancy term for paying more attention to the opportunities around you, going after your dreams with more confidence, and reaching out to others.
- Through what's called emotional contagion, when you smile and thus feel and act better, that influences others to feel and act better, too. Then nice positive cycles start rolling through a group -- perhaps a family, a team at work, or simply a bunch of friends -- in which your smile gets others to smile and be more positive, which snowballs into an even bigger grin for you.
- When you smile -- authentically, to be sure, not in a false or Dr. Evil sort of way -- that tells people you are not a threat, which calms the ancient, evolutionary tendency to be wary of others, and thus inclines them to be more open to you.
This is definitely not about putting a happy shiny face on depression, grief, fear, or anger. Smiling then would be phony, and would probably feel awful. But when you feel neutral or experience mild well-being, shifting into a small smile while thinking of good facts that make it real can naturally lift your mood and help you act more effectively.
So, in your mind or on paper, make a list of things that make you smile. Several times a day, look for moments to bring that list to mind...and a soft smile to your face.
Then notice the results, in how you feel inside, and in how you act toward others and how they respond to you Savor these good feelings and successes, taking them in.
Smiling a few more times each day may not seem like much, but it will send wonderful ripples through your brain, body, mind, and relationships.
Now, isn't that something to smile about?
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