7 Reasons to Smile More—Backed By Science

Updated: Apr. 05, 2017

Too stressed to smile? Here’s why grinning is winning for all aspects of your life, and how you can cultivate this happy habit.


Smiles are like super-glue for relationships

People who are generous with smiles are considered more likeable and approachable than people who frown or wear a deadpan expression. A 30-year study by University of California, Berkeley, psychologists Dacher Keltner, PhD, and Lee Anne Harker, PhD, sheds some light why grinning is winning for long-term relationships. When they compared yearbook photos of 21-year-old graduates with their situation later in life, they found that those who smiled with genuinely positive emotion had healthier marriages at age 52.


Smiles make your heart happy

Just as we smile when we’re happy, it turns out that the mere act of smiling makes us happy. When we do, our system recognizes that there’s an absence of threat, and relaxes: It slows down our heart rate, tamps down production of the stress hormone cortisol, and may temporarily reduce blood pressure, too, boosting overall heart health. Even forcing your face into a smile can reduce stress and relax your heart rate, according to a study at the University of Kansas.


Smiling could help you see more birthdays

The more you smile, the longer you’re likely to live, according to research from the Wayne State University. In the study, Major League Baseball players from 1952 who wore full-faced, genuine smiles on their baseball cards lived longer, around 79.9 years, compared to players who only partly smiled or didn’t smile at all, who lived 5 to 7 years less. Smiling can make us look younger, too: People who smile frequently seem to age more slowly, appearing around three years younger than their less smiley counterparts. (Related: How long will you live? Take this surprising longevity test!)


Smiling is contagious, in a good way

Smiling is a language that everyone understands regardless of age, race, culture, language, and nationality. We all know that when you smile at people, even strangers, they almost always smile back, spreading a kind of peace and goodwill. This contagious smiling comes from a subconscious tendency to match other people’s emotions. It’s why people who spend time around children, who smile often, naturally smile more than people who keep mostly adult company. Share these kid-friendly jokes with a child in your life for some contagious belly laughing today.


Smiling helps us make our case

Consider successful salesmen and politicians. Can you imagine how we’d react if they wore sour expressions? People who smile a lot are more likely gain our trust—and earn better tips—than someone who provides the same service with an impassive face. (Related: These are other habits you have that make people trust you.) A smile also reflects confidence, a feeling we respond to positively. MRI scans show that smiling faces activate the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain, which processes sensory rewards, making smiles feel like little gifts. Add these body language tricks to your winning smile to help you be more successful across the board.


Smiling takes the edge off our nerves

Smiles generate endorphins, the feel-good chemicals associated with exercise, which may be why psychiatrists find their patients naturally smiling more as they recover from depression. Smiles also have a morphine-like action that helps relieve stress and reduce perception of pain in the brain. Children in hospitals who are exposed to comedies and comic characters often report less pain compared to those who don’t have those experiences.


Smiling is a natural instinct

We now have evidence that we are hardwired to smile. While smiling used to be considered a learned behavior that babies acquired at around six weeks of age, more advanced ultrasound testing has shown that even babies who are born blind can smile. Babies have been known to make breathing and sucking movements and even blink while still in the womb, and these reflexes are thought to prepare them for their life outside. Now smiling has joined the list. Say cheese! (Hint: These 26 secrets to happiness can help you get started.)

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest