#36alive 202: Smile For A Mood Boost

Charles Darwin was a pretty smart bloke, from his theory of evolution to vestigial organs / traits (if you don’t know what this is, look it up, it’s fascinating) to his voyage on HMS Beagle, old Charlie boy had an interesting life with some interesting ideas.

One such idea was that facial expressions didn’t only reflect emotions, but also caused them. This theory has been tested with studies showing that faking a smile can actually make us happier. This is thought to be due to the muscles used in the face when smiling, triggering the emotional response that normally makes us smile. This means the deep and poignant question of ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg?’ could be replaced with ‘what came first, the smile or the emotion?’

A study carried out by a psychologist named Robert Zajonc in 1989 is one of the most significant in this field. Dr Zajonc had people make vowel sounds over and over. When repeating an “e”, mimicking a smile, pleasant feelings were felt. However, when making a “u”, volunteers felt in a worse mood.

Another study carried out found that smiling during a stressful task resulted in a more relaxed feeling. Chopsticks were used to manipulate the volunteer’s mouths in three ways; a neutral expression, a standard smile, and a Duchenne smile. Although this sounds stressful in itself, the subjects were then given some tasks to do while their heart rates were monitored. Those who had a Duchenne smile were the most relaxed of all while those who had a standard smile were also more relaxed than those with a neutral expression.

This doesn’t mean that smiling will make us feel as happy as we do when an emotion makes us smile, the effects of a facial expression first will be modest in comparison to an emotional high. I’m also not advising people to go around smiling 24/7, that would just annoy everyone around you I suspect. I mean, let’s face it,  if someone is too happy all the time then this can get a little annoying and that would make me wary of said person, rightly or wrongly. Also, if someone has just received some bad news, I wouldn’t suggest advising them to smile or shoving a chopstick in their mouth, but, if you are in need of a little cheering up, then why not induce a smile and see if it makes you feel a little happier.

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