“Let your smile change the world, but don’t let the world change your smile.”
How often has your smile changed the world? Have you ever flashed this million-dollar curve to a complete stranger and see a relationship develop? And see a change in your “world”?
I was mulling over what to write. A smile from a complete stranger inspired this blog post and what fueled it were the smiles by hundreds of strangers from various backgrounds and ethnicity (I was attending an international competition* that’d attracted more than a thousand people from about 112 countries- and there are 196 countries in the world. This is when and how a smile brought a change in the world).
So when smiling, what actually happens inside you?
Basic biology reveals that upon experiencing a pleasant stimulus, neuronal signals travel from the cortex of the brain to the brainstem. Muscles, called cranial muscles, deliver the signal to the smiling muscles of the face. Upon contraction of those smiling muscles, a positive feedback loop is activated which goes back to the brain to reinforce feelings of happiness.
The main smiling muscles involved are:
- Zygomaticus major: controls the corners of the mouth. When this muscle alone is activated, the smile is not genuine, and is referred to as the “social smile”.
- Orbicularis oculi: surrounds the eye sockets and when activated, shows a true smile (also called a Duchenne smile) and is interpreted as a sign of sincerity.
Researcher Dr. Niedenthal believes our brain employs some tricks to distinguish between a social smile and a Duchenne smile by:
- Doing a quick comparison of a person’s face geometry to a standard smile (Stop reading and think about it for a second. Isn’t it intriguing to realize our brain runs a quick check like that?)
- Assessing the situation to decide whether a smile is to be given/expected.
- Automatically mirroring the smile (through mirror neurons that are so called since they help mirror the actions of others), to feel ourselves whether the smile is a social one or a Duchenne.
If the case of exploding smiles is put simply: Our brain feels exhilarated, wants to share it with the body so tells the face to smile and releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals. We smile and endorphins make their mark, and we revert to our brain and tell it that we feel good. And this is repeated.
Smiling has such an intense impact on our brain’s reward mechanisms that not even chocolate, a widely- regarded pleasure inducer, can match (but of course that doesn’t negate the merits of chocolate. Can’t help getting a bit defensive about this bar of caffeine and pleasure!)
Smiling wards off the biological states of:
- stress and anxiety, just like exercise, by releasing endorphins
- high blood pressure
- high heart rate
- boosts the immune system (by making the body produce more white blood cells)
- helps live longer (The biotic secret to happiness and longevity: smile more!)
Nothing is as contagious as a smile. Not even the strongest virus could claim that honor! In this case, you can safely blame your mirror neurons. Seeing someone smile will activate your mirror neurons and make you mirror their action and smile too.
If you want an instant little party with zero prep in your body and brain, just smile to release those endorphins and they will make you feel good!
So next time you are attending a seminar, booked on a long flight or are simply jogging at the park, dazzle up with a Duchenne smile! You might just make someone’s day. And definitely your own. And see a change in the world 🙂
*The international competition was the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) July 6-16, 2016 in Hong Kong. This blog post is inspired by my Duchenne-smiling multicultured buddies at the Olympiad, and so is dedicated to them.
(Biological facts on smiling mentioned in this blog post are referenced from here)