What makes a smile so unique? Scientists have yet to identify one single cause, or even a single characteristic unique to one person. We know that smiling is a universal gesture that is considered to be good for health and well-being. Scientific support for the positive benefits of smiling can be found in numerous scientific studies.
A simple explanation for why smiling causes good health is that our bodies produce natural happy hormones. Happiness is an important factor in reducing stress, which in turn is known to reduce the risk of many diseases including coronary artery disease and diabetes. The muscles in the face are particularly active when people are happy or anticipate having a pleasant experience. The more facial muscles are used, the more powerful the signal sent to the brain. Smiling is particularly effective because it activates the so-called reward pathway, a.k.a.
In experiments with animals, smiling seems to activate several areas of the brain responsible for happiness and fitness. Specifically, researchers have found that the area where the face is located seems to be particularly activated when an animal displays its teeth or other facial expressions of happiness. This indicates that when we smile, part of our brain is concerned with producing happy hormones, activating areas of our brain associated with that particular sensation, and possibly influencing the behavior we are trying to influence.
Another study of facial muscles showed that when we smile, a part of the brain called the medial frontal cortex is activated. This part of the brain is concerned with evaluating how the facial muscles are moving, including whether they are moving in the appropriate direction, and what they should feel like as they move. It also helps us understand other people’s facial expressions. In fact, when we are happy or tense our medial frontal cortex seems to contract. As we smile, this muscle relaxes, making us look more relaxed and giving us a more welcoming appearance.
Studies of children have shown that smiling can reduce the risk of serious dental problems. A study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that children who smiled at least ten times a day were less likely to experience dental problems than children who did not smile at all or were tense or angry about various things. In another study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, it was shown that people who smile a lot were less likely to develop heart disease. Also, the risk of developing gum disease decreased forty-nine percent in those who were regularly smiling. That makes sense, since smiling makes us feel better and that seems like a pretty good reason to put smiling on our lips every single day!
Perhaps the most amazing discovery was made by Phil Cooke, who did an experiment in which he tried to determine if there was any truth to the saying “the luck smiles.” He took a group of people who never smiled, and quizzed them about their health, religion, political beliefs, work history, and any other characteristics that might be related to whether or not they smiled. The results of his study were absolutely astonishing. The people who always smiled seemed to live longer, healthier lives; they also seemed to be more generous, too!