Smiling is magic right under your nose. It is the key to longevity, good overall health, loving relationships and even success.
However, we have created a culture that has forgotten how to smile, where stress is a badge of productivity and smiling is almost reserved for special occasions As we are sucked into our daily grind, let us not forget how to smile and to smile more, because it is a simple and powerful way to improve the quality of our lives. Let's dive into why and how:
The secret power of smiling
Smiling is more than just flexing facial muscles. Smiling sends positive signals to the brain that stimulate the brain's reward system. This creates a positive feedback loop: we smile, feedback is given to the brain, we feel good. When we feel good feedback is given to the brain, we smile - the loop goes on! The more smiles your brain registers in its 'smile scorecard', the better we feel and the more positive feelings are generated.
Smiling is several times more stimulating than receiving a stack of dollars or biting into sumptuous chocolate and is effective in decreasing stress-induced hormones, that negatively impact physical and mental health. It is even as relieving as exercise and almost as refreshing as a good night's sleep.
Smiling brings a youthful glow to your face and (contrary to popular belief) slows aging due to lower stress levels.
Smiling is crucial in creating connections and deepening friendships. People are just generally drawn to opening up and talking to someone who smiles.
But it's not just people you'll attract by simply smiling, it's also the opportunities. In a yearbook photo study, researchers picked out those who smiled from those who didn't, tracked the people behind the photos and compared the quality of their lives. Interestingly, those who smiled more lead happier lives, had fulfilling relationships and fewer setbacks.
Get into the habit
Everyone can smile. It doesn't have to be model-worthy, you don't need excellent teeth - all you need is yourself to practice with.
I used to never smile in my photos. I thought I just never looked good smiling and that my smile looked awkward or forced... so I stopped doing it. Looking back, smiling could have boosted my confidence and self-appreciation, and perhaps even unstuck me from the rut (coincidentally, I was going through a difficult time).
The trick is to release any judgements or expectations. Remember KISS: Keep it Simple, Silly. Try lifting your cheek muscles slightly at intervals of 5, then gradually work your way to showing your teeth (or not, whatever you dig).
I taught myself how to smile (again) by getting used to seeing myself in the mirror. Smiling at myself as I pass by the mirror or at my reflection while I washed my hands.
You have to get into the habit of smiling. It takes a minimum of 21 days for habits to form, but it is actually an encouraging message: don't focus on time, focus on building a relationship with yourself (mistakes and occasional failures to keep promises included). Before you know it, your muscles will memorize how you smile and it will be a breeze! I don't even have to remind myself to smile anymore, it just comes on its own.
How to smile more
You may find it ridiculous to smile willy-nilly, but soon you'll discover that there's infinite reasons to. Here's 4 easy tips to help integrate smiling into your daily life that make it feel like second nature:
1. Smile the moment you wake up
You don't have to wait for something good to happen to make you smile, you can smile and make that the first good thing that happens. This sets your mood for the day. Isn't it that the bad feelings we get from cranky mornings often stay with us until the end of the day? By starting your day with a smile, you're making a commitment to good feelings, good experiences and a good attitude.
2. Set "smile cues"
If you're the forgetful type or one who needs to be reminded, set smile cues. For example, you can make the color yellow your cue, so whenever you see yellow, you'll have to smile. You can make this feel less like a chore and more like a game.
You can make bicycles your smile cue, a dog, a word, a specific song, anything. That way, you'll never run out of reasons to smile. The sillier, the funnier cue (such as passing by a fire hydrant) which also makes for a good laugh! You can also set reminders to smile via your phone and use those reminders as cues.
3. Use your imagination
One of the best superpowers our brains have is the ability to dream and imagine. We spend most of our lives thinking and we can put those thoughts to good use.
Recall fond memories. My favorite memory is when my friends invited me over to their apartment where I talked to them about my work as a spiritual mentor for the first time. I feared they would judge me, but received their kindness, love and empathy instead. It's such a simple memory, but it gets me smiling every time I think about it. Teary-eyed, too.
Think about your favorite memories and if you don't have one or have a few, you can create worthwhile memories that will hold you in hope in the darkest of days. Spend time with people you love, watch a movie with friends, travel, take a class, jog - get out there and make memories you can look back on and smile. You can even record these through voice recordings, photographs, writing, the ways are endless. Make it as personal to you as possible.
Probably the most overlooked and under-appreciated lifestyle change that can save so many lives if people would just try to understand it better. Mindfulness is simply living aware: consciously, responsibly, lovingly, in the present. Life is being lived so fast by many that they forget to slow down and keep their eyes open. You can slow down time, kind of, through mindfulness. Mindfulness helps you notice and appreciate things that would have usually gone unnoticed.
Start a gratitude journal. Every day, end the day by listing at least 3 things to be grateful for. Smile as you recall them and when you've written them down. When you smile, attach feelings of gratitude because smiling itself is a gift. By starting a gratitude journal, you develop a mindset of gratitude which helps you find more and more reasons to smile about.
Did this article make you smile? Which of these 4 tips are you doing or planning to do? Do you have any tips you want to share? Share your thoughts in the comments (or send this blog post to a friend in need of a smile).