Smiles are contagious, or at least those are the results of a study conducted in Sweden at Uppsala University. Yale Scientific Magazine reports, “They found that genuine smiles directly induced smiles from the participants.”
Genuinely smiling relieves stress, yet faking a smile can also accelerate recovery rates after a stressful experience. Additionally, even a faked smile can affect others. Brainfacts.org, an initiative sponsored by The Kavli Foundation, Gatsby and the Society for Neuroscience, states that smiles are infectious due to a special class of neurons, known as mirror neurons. They fire both when certain actions are performed and when those same actions are observed- one of which is smiling. When you see others smile, your body responds as if you yourself have smiled. Whether the smile was zygomatic (naturally-occurring) or faked, is irrelevant- you receive the positive effect either way.
Psychology Today reports that the positive effect is a result of reciprocal communication between the emotional portion of the brain and the facial muscles it communicates with. Emotions and facial muscles have somewhat of a mutualistic relationship- emotions can change facial expression, while facial expressions can affect emotional change.
According to Discovery’s Curiosity.com, a zygomatic smile uses 12 primary muscles. In contrast, a frown only requires 11 muscles. However, because we smile more frequently, those 12 muscles are in better shape, so producing a genuine smile is easier than frowning.
The human brain cannot recognize the difference between genuine and false smiling, so when one’s mirror neurons perceive happiness, the body’s biochemistry positively responds by releasing muscle tension and improving blood flow, heart rate and digestion. Curiosity states that “smiling is the most contagious facial expression,” second only to yawning.
This explains why you cannot play the “I can’t smile for you” icebreaker with a straight face. Played in pairs, one participant smiles at another- who attempts not to reciprocate. It is nearly impossible to play this game without seeing people’s faces crack into smiles and hearing laughter all around.
Essentially, all of the aforementioned facts support old adages and sayings, like “grin and bear it,” “fake it ‘til you make it,” and “just put on a happy face.” There’s scientific backing to smiling, for both yourself and others.
Given this evidence, I applaud the Student Wellness Advisory Board, who recently launched an initiative called Operation Smile in an effort to assist people in seeing the benefits of smiling and to get them to smile more.
The Operation Smile flier lists several reasons to smile, including that research has shown that smiling assists in easing stress, gives one a warmer and more welcoming appearance, boosts immune function, releases endorphins- a natural biochemical opiate, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of well-being and happiness.
With this new program, Eastern is participating in a pay-it-forward initiative. Smiling is a simple and easy action to take every day which is universally understood. This program will promote unity and camaraderie within the Eastern community and will further engender positivity in each of our lives, at Eastern and beyond.
Remember, even if you cannot offer anything other than a positive attitude, that is worth offering.
Pass on the good will; you will never know whose day you are making.
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