Wanting to be happier is a universal trait. Research on happiness (aka positive psychology) has mushroomed over the past two decades. Major research institutions have made important and often thought-provoking moves towards the joy of joy, with surprising and often illuminating results.
The research we’re reviewing today is one in which researchers use electromagnetic brain scans and heart rate monitors to create what they call “mood-enhancing values” for different stimuli. In other words, the researchers had participants do, study, or listen to different things and measure how happy it made them. This research was conducted in the United Kingdom.
One thing got ahead of the others. The thing turned out to give participants the equivalent of 2,000 chocolates of brain stimulation. It was even as encouraging as earning $25,000. So what was this magical stimulus?
It turns out that smiling has really remarkable effects. First, doing this makes you feel that way, even if you don’t feel good at the moment. A 2009 study
at the Echnische Universität in Munich proved that the brain’s happiness circuit is activated when you smile (regardless of your current mood). If you’re feeling down, smiling actually stimulates your brain to produce feel-good hormones. “Imitate until it happens.” heed the word.
Smiling is also a sign of longevity. In 2010, researchers from Wayne State University looked at photographs from 1952 Major League baseball cards. They realized that an actor’s smile was actually used to predict his lifespan. Non-smiling players lived an average of 72.9 years, while smiling players lived a full seven years longer.
Similarly, a 30-year longitudinal study at UC Berkeley examined the smiles of students in a former yearbook, with almost startling results. The breadth of the students’ smiles emerged as a sure indicator of how high standardized tests of well-being and general happiness would be, how inspiring others would find them, and how fulfilling their marriage would even be. Those with the biggest smiles topped all the rankings.
Finally, research shows that we look better to others when we smile. Not only are we perceived as cuter and kinder, but those who benefit from our sunny smile also see us as more competent (something to keep in mind when presenting or interacting in the office).
Want to know where you stand when it comes to smiling? Know this: Less than 14% of us smile less than 5 times a day (you probably don’t want to be in that group). More than 30% of us smile more than 20 times a day. And there’s a population approaching 400 smiles a day that definitely dominates the smile game: kids.
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