Say Cheese! How to Smile for Better Health

Find out how to smile to look younger, live longer, look prettier, and stamp out stress.

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Your smile can predict the length of your life.

Here’s a good reason to get happy: A 2010 study of photographs of 150 Major League Baseball players from the 1952 season correlated the strength of their smile with the length of their life. Those who were deemed to have Duchenne (genuine, full-faced) smiles lived on average for 80 years. Those with only partial smiles lived until about age 75. And those who were missing a grin only made it to age 72. Of course the smile itself doesn’t cause longevity, Psychology Today notes, but they are likely indicative of how these men lived their lives.

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Will you get divorced? Your yearbook photo may hold a clue.

Forget premarital counseling: Why not check out your would-be spouse’s yearbook photos before you tie the knot? After DePauw University researchers analyzed the grins of hundreds of graduates in multiple years of yearbook photos, they found that the top 10 percent of smilers had a divorce rate of about one in 20. Those in the bottom 10 percent, however, were five times as likely to get divorced. “Smilers tend to be happier, more social, and more emotionally stable, all traits that lead to successful relationships,” according to Psychology Today. Further, “smiling makes others smile, leading to mutually contagious and beneficial social arrangements.”


Smiling may make you look younger.

Recent Dutch research on 481 participants, who made various faces expressing different emotions, found that both computer software and other people guessed that smiling people were younger than they actually were, but only for those over age 40. Those younger than 40 looked younger when they wore more neutral expressions, according to ScienceDaily.

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Smiling makes you more attractive—if you’re a woman.

Bad boys do get the girls, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Emotion. The researchers found that women rated men who were smiling in photographs as less attractive than those who bore more stoic faces. On the other hand, men found smiling women far more attractive than those making other expressions.


Smiles make you blow more cash.

Beware the smiley face on your restaurant check: it may make you drop a bigger tip—if your server is female, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. (The tactic backfired for male servers, possibly because the act was perceived as gender inappropriate).

In other research from Central Washington University, participants were more likely to buy (and pay higher prices for) products in ads where the people had genuine Duchenne smiles compared with ads where people had less full, “fake” smiles.


Even forcing a smile can stamp out stress.

Yes, it pays to fake it ‘til you make it, according to a recent University of Kansas study that found smiling during a taxing task helped make the deed less stressful. While genuine smiles reduced stress the most, even fake smiles (simulated by making participants holding chopsticks in their mouths) were better than no smiles, found HealthDay News.

On the flip side, suppressing the ability to frown may boost your mood. In one study, researchers injected Botox in the frowning muscles of patients with depression, rendering them unable to make sad faces. After six weeks, 27 percent of those patients went into remission from their depression compared with 7 percent in a control group who received placebo injections, according to the Wall Street Journal.


Which would you prefer: a smile or chocolate?

Smiles stimulate the brain’s rewards systems better than sweets. One British study found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 (yes, you read that right: two thousand) bars of chocolate, according to the TED talk on smiling.


Seeing your baby smile is a natural high.

There’s nothing like seeing your baby’s gummy grin for the first time. A Pediatrics study of 28 new moms with infants who ranged in age from 5 to 10 months viewed photos of their babies and other babies making different faces while in a functional MRI machine to measure brain activity. When they saw their own babies smiling, key areas in the brain’s “reward center” lit up—the same ones associated with drug addiction. There was less of an effect when the babies were making sad faces or when they looked at babies besides their own, according to Medical News Today.


Guess who smiles more—men or women?

You’ll probably guess women, and you’ll be right—but not always, according to some interesting research published in the journal Psychological Bulletin. Researchers pored over 186 studies on gender differences and smiling. They found that women do smile more than men, but not a lot more. And this difference narrowed even more when people thought no one was looking. (In other words, women smile more and men smile less when they think they are being observed, possibly due to expectations about gender roles.) The paper also found that men and women smile about the same when they have similar jobs, power, or social roles, according to ScienceDaily.

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Smiling presidents are a new-ish trend.

It’s hard to picture President Obama without his bright, beaming smile or President George W. Bush sans his crooked grin. But until the beginning of the twentieth century, smiling leaders of the free world were a rarity, according to a Willamette University paper on the changing conceptions of the U.S. presidency. Presidents purposefully didn’t smile in public; they intended to look serious. This began to change with the Roosevelt cousins: Theodore was the first president ever photographed grinning and FDR’s infectious grin was a big topic in newspapers covering his campaign.

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One muscle is solely responsible for a sincere smile.

What separates a real (Duchenne) smile from a fake one? A muscle called the obicularis occuli, which encircles the eye socket, according to the book Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex and Politics. According to author Marianne LaFrance, “when people genuinely smile, in a true burst of positive emotion, not only to the corners of the mouth, controlled by the zygomaticus major, but this muscle around the eye also contracts. This causes the crows feet wrinkles that fan out from the outer corners of the eyes and its also responsible for folds in the upper eyelid. Most people can’t do that deliberately.”

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Kids are more likely to smile than adults.

How many times a day do you crack a smile? Children do it as many as 400 times a day, according to a TED talk on the power of smiling, compared with more than one-third of adults who smile more than 20 times a day and the less than 14 percent who say they smile fewer than five times a day. Children are literally born smiling: 3D ultrasound images show fetuses smiling in the womb. Newborns usually smile within a few days of giving birth, and by six weeks old, babies will smile while they look directly at their parents, according to Lip Service. By age 6, children are capable of faking a smile they don’t really feel.


The artist behind the famous yellow smiley face earned only $45 for it.

Advertising firm owner Harvey Ball of Worcester, Massachusetts created the Smiley Face in 1963 to boost morale among workers of two recently merged insurance companies, according to Ball’s obituary. State Mutual Life Assurance Cos. of America paid him $45 for the design. By 1971, more than 50 million Smiley Face buttons had been sold.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest