The more the better. Go big or go home. Two of my workout mantras.
If I can do something that safely and properly works out more muscles or more muscle groups at one time, then why wouldn’t I? Makes sense – right?
Common sense tells me to look for workout efficiencies. After all, the party I’m hoping the happy endorphins will have in my head is the end goal and if I can get there safely and with proper form but quicker, why wouldn’t I?
If you’re buyin’ what I’m sellin’, then my advice to you is simple: smile more.
You heard me. Smile more.
While there’s tons of discussion out there about the muscles involved in smiling and frowning and what constitutes a smile versus a frown, scientists generally agree that if you boil it down, a smile that only raises the corners of the lips and the upper lip a bit uses 10 muscles, whereas a simple frown uses six.
So going back to my workout efficiency argument, this is a 67% difference in workout efficiency in smiling versus frowning! The workout warrior in me can’t help but smile at the thought.
Likewise, scientists estimate that it takes about 30 muscles to laugh, as opposed to about 20 to stick your tongue out. That’s a 50% difference in workout efficiency and I think we can all agree that we’d rather cut to the chase and let loose the happy endorphins that go with laughter than potentially forego the experience entirely. (Having said this, I will concede that a tongue stuck out ‘tongue in cheek’ generally results in laughter on all sides so there are obvious exceptions to the rule. Lol.)
Smiling sends important messages to the brain that have the potential to change the way we feel and behave.
Years ago, in one call centre’s quest to improve the quality of their customer service, a consultant advised them to put mirrors in front of all of their representatives. The supervisors got on board with the idea (after all, it was their job to promote quality service to their customers) but none of them could have anticipated the win-win that came from this simple change: customers reported greater levels of satisfaction and employees reported less mental fatigue, more happiness, and greater job satisfaction.
Wow! Great news! But why?
The mirror provided the customer service representative’s brain with information on how they were feeling about the general ‘good or bad’ tenor of the conversations they were having. When conversations were going well, the representatives smiled more and these smiles were captured in the mirror, sending positive vibes to the brain. These vibes led to feelings of contentment, which promoted access to important service-oriented problem-solving channels in the brain. If the conversation was not going well and the representative was feeling discouraged, the mirror cued them into their frowns and the associated negativity, prompting them to want to change their reflection to a more positive (smiling) one. In short, the mirror provided the catalyst needed to break the negative cycle and allow more positivity to enter into their personal experience and that of the customer. That’s a win-win if ever there was one.
So smiling sends important, positive messages to our brain. Got it. But (there’s always a but), it doesn’t end there. For better or worse, smiling also sends important messages to others about us.
Social scientists have found that smiling and frowning leave impressions on others that are universal across cultures. Smiling is associated with friendliness, while frowning is associated with sadness and disapproval. For better or worse, others view our smiles and frowns as indicative of our emotional state, mental wellbeing, health, and credibility. From there, it tends to pan out along the lines of that old English proverb you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. People naturally gravitate to happy, smiling people. Simply put, a smile really is the shortest distance between two people.
Don’t want to smile because you don’t care what others think? Fair enough. Don’t do it for them. Do it for you!
Make a conscious effort to smile more and your own personal feelings of happiness and wellbeing will increase. What’s more, according to one Chinese proverb, every smile makes you a day younger. So we’re actually talking about increased feelings of happiness and wellbeing AND a little ticket to the fountain of youth? You bet you can sign me up to smile more!
Now, please don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying plastering a smile on your face when you’re crying on the inside should be your new modus operandi. It’s simply not possible to smile 100% of the time. Life’s not like that. But if your thoughts are broken and smiles become increasingly hard to come by, reach out. Please. If you had a broken arm, you wouldn’t just live with it, you’d reach out. Broken thoughts are no different. Reach out. Mental health is health.
In the end, I guess what I want to offer up is the idea that there’s a HUGE upside to smiling more often, both for our own personal happiness and wellbeing but also for the relationships we seek to establish with others. Go ahead and make a conscious decision to smile more often and see what happens. If smiles really are contagious, this could be the start of something pretty amazing. No. Something pretty AWESOME!
Penny has a degree in social and developmental psychology and has devoted her career to programming for kids of all ages in the fields of physical and intellectual literacy. This dedicated fitness enthusiast and involved mom of two university students lives in Oakville with Rob, a great guy with whom she'll soon be celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2019.