The Science of Smiling: 3 Reasons to be Cheerful Right Now

Mildred Lisette Norman, a spiritual teacher in the 1950s, otherwise known as the Peace Pilgrim, recited the following:

“Life is like a mirror. Smile at it and it smiles back at you.”

While Norman was wise beyond her years, she may not have known that this statement holds scientific backing on how the simple act of smiling can have powerful positive effects on our lives. Seventy years later, this statement continues to ring true, (maybe more now than ever before). As we face more challenges in the coming winter months, with dark nights drawing in and more lockdown limitations placed upon us, smiling may just be the secret ingredient to maintaining a happy and positive mindset.

So what is the science behind smiling? Can a subtle upturn to our lips really impact the way we feel? Let’s take a closer look.

1. What came first - the smile or the good mood?

Can you really improve your mood just by smiling? Turns out, smiling and happiness are intertwined in a rather simple “chicken and egg” scenario. When you feel happy, your brain releases a group of feel-good neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. These “happy hormones” transmit a neuronal signal to your facial muscles to trigger a smile. Now here’s where the magic starts. When your facial muscles contract into a smile, a signal is fired back to the brain stimulating the reward system, and beginning a feedback loop of happiness. To put it simply, when you feel happy, you smile, and when you smile, you feel happy.