Yes, smiling can make you happier, but sometimes it can be so hard to do!
For many people, being asked to smile, for a photograph for example, can be cause of embarrassment, fear and self-consciousness and there have been times in my life where I felt so far removed from happiness, it honestly felt like my face might crack from the pain of trying to smile.
Smiling is usually associated with a positive emotional state, and when we feel good, we smile more.
When we laugh, we smile, or when surrounded by the right people, or placed in a positive environment, we can’t contain the joy that spreads across our face.
And that’s why it can become so hard to do.
When our emotional state is low, those of us who like to feel true to ourselves and authentic in life, can find forcing a smile as guilt ridden as a lie. It feels false, painful and almost alien to us emotionally.
And yet there are a wealth of benefits that come from smiling, even if it's a forced smile (that still uses all the muscles around they mouth, cheeks and eyes). The Duchenne smile, as it’s most commonly known as, is a “true happiness smile” which reaches the eyes, making the corners wrinkle up with crow’s feet. It’s the smile most people recognise as an authentic expression of happiness (Healthline, 2019).
It also influences our emotions, as MRI scans have shown the muscle movement triggers parts of the brain controlling our emotional responses and releases endorphins which increase feelings of happiness and positivity.
Smiling is also part of natural laughter, which is known to release endorphins for pain relief, so it’s true laughter is the best medicine!
But what about the effects on your heart? A true smile and laughter can reduce your blood pressure, increase muscle relaxation and lower heart rate which in turn reduces stress levels whilst improving heart health (Mayo Clinic, 2019)
Further research on the benefits of smiling found facial expressions matter when it comes to our emotions, with smiling helping people to feel happier, scowling increasing feelings of anger and frowning increasing feelings of sadness, (Coles, Larsen, & Lench, 2019).
So how do we help ourselves to smile? Can we make it part of a mindful practice, or way of life? Why not try this Inner Smile Meditation, a popular Taoist practice in which we smile inwardly to the body, activating the energy of loving-kindness within us. Taoist Meditations are Chinese Meditations that focus on the flow of chi through the body which is a natural healing energy flow. This is Meditation is very easy and enjoyable to do, and can be as long and short as you like, and perfect for those who find it difficult to smile.
Begin by closing your eyes and relaxing your whole body. Breath slowly and smoothly, letting go on the exhalation.
Smooth facial muscles and focus attention on the third eye (middle of the forehead).
Notice any inner joy and feel free to visualise a peaceful scene, someone you love smiling or imagine your own smiling face, whichever evokes happiness and helps you become aware of this feeling within.
Gather this positive feeling along your forehead and observe or sense as it travels down your body.
Let the smiling energy flow like a stream down your nose to wash over your lips.
Raise the corners of your mouth slightly in a sublime inner smile. Simultaneously feel this soften your eyes.
Place the tongue behind the teeth to connect the energy circuit for the entire practice.
Relax your jaw.
Swallow your saliva and feel your throat open and relax as you smile to your voice box. Thank them for giving you the power of balance and speech.
Visualise your chest and lungs, like a blossoming flower and smile to it with thanks for strong immunity and healing energy.
Let the smile radiate to the happiness centre of your heart. Feel your heart soften and fill with love. Release pain, tightness or emotional stress as you exhale.
Send a smiling love letter to your open heart. Thank it for giving you compassion, kindness, joy and good circulation.
Continue in this way, smiling and thanking your self as you breathe through the body and organs.