Smile Away!

I have never been a very “smiley” person. It’s not that I’m mad, sad or hostile, I just do not walk around smiling. Perhaps it’s my childhood inherent shyness still lurking beneath the surface, or the fact that I’ve always been self-conscious of my teeth (five years of braces will do that to you), but even if I’m feeling happy and carefree, my face doesn’t display it. I’ve heard from others who have joined me in complaining about strangers who walk up to us saying smile pretty lady, why so serious? This has happened at the gym or grocery store on more than on occasion, and I know I’m not alone in this. I usually find it to be quite annoying, as it sounds a tad demeaning, not to mention that they really have no clue what’s going on in this woman’s world – maybe there’s a very good reason why she’s not smiling!

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But recently at the gym as I pondered my smile-less demeanor, I simultaneously noticed how many women wouldn’t smile at me as I passed by and made eye contact. My initial reaction was one of defensiveness – what’s wrong with them, are they threatened by me or feeling superior? Then I realized how many people must think the same thing of me. These other women could be shy, could be seriously focused (as I usually am), or could be suffering from a bad day or some sadness I could never know about. I also reflected upon some of my friends who are very “smiley” people, and how they’re always quick to smile and say hello, and consequently receive a lot of friendly acknowledgment back.

Having heard for years (from doctors to yoga gurus) that smiling had huge health benefits, I did a little research and found a myriad of “benefits” cited out on the internet. Here are the most common and compelling:

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  1. LOWERS YOUR HEART RATE.  Smiling slows the heart and relaxes the body. This lets the heart work without overworking. People who smile and laugh often are less likely to develop heart disease. Smiling also temporarily reduces blood pressure.
  2. LOWERS STRESS, IMPROVES MOOD, BOOSTS IMMUNE SYSTEM. There is a definite lowering in physical tension when we smile as smiling releases endorphins that counteract and diminish stress hormones while also lifting your mood. Endorphins also are natural anti-inflamatories which help to reduce pain in our bodies (another reason we might not be smiling). The reduction in stress also allows our bodies to be more ready to fight infections or viruses, thus boosting our immune systems.
  3. ENCOURAGES TRUST.  Studies show that we are more trustful of others when they smile and smile genuinely. Trust is an important aspect of our social health when dealing with people, whether loved ones, co-workers, or even strangers.
  4. CONTRIBUTES TO SUCCESS.  Smiling makes us appear confident, self-assured, and approachable. Those who smile are more likely to earn more money through tips and raises, and are more readily approached with business ideas and other career opportunities or advancements.
  5. LOOK YOUNGER.  Smiles naturally lift the face which studies have shown can make people look younger (around 3 years younger on average).

There were many more smile-benefits listed, but I figured these five were strong enough. So I decided to run a test – I would smile randomly throughout my day, with a specific attempt to make more eye contact with people while I smiled.

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The results … first off, my workout was more relaxing and thus effective. I had fun working out while smiling at my fellow “gym rats,” and left feeling more satisfied, both physically and emotionally. My interactions at stores and restaurants were far more pleasant and I received better service and prices (grocery checker offered me several coupons just because she had them). At the end of the day I looked less tired too (i.e., younger).

Based upon this, I say smile away people! You might have to force yourself initially (though don’t force the smile – those look creepy and fake), but once you garner a few positive reactions it becomes easier. Just find something to think about that puts a smile on your face and you’ll look (and be) sincere. The benefits will follow. Please feel free to share your test results with me and my readers!

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