Smiling can and will change your brain.
A man is getting into the shower just as his wife is finishing up her shower when the doorbell rings. The wife quickly wraps herself in a towel and runs downstairs. When she opens the door, there stands Bob, the next-door neighbor. Before she says a word, Bob says, "I’ll give you $800 to drop that towel." After thinking for a moment, the woman drops her towel and stands naked in front of Bob. After a few seconds, Bob hands her $800 and leaves. The woman wraps back up in the towel and goes back upstairs. When she gets to the bathroom, her husband asks, "Who was that?" "It was Bob the next door neighbor," she replies. "Great," the husband says, "did he say anything about the $800 he owes me?"
I know that’s not the best joke, but I was hoping to bring a smile to your face, you see there are few things in life more natural to humans than to smile. Think about that for a moment, smiling is one of the (most) easiest actions you can take to change your state. It’s one of the first things we learn to do, and it has the same internal effects on everybody from the orthodontically perfect smiles of pageant queen to a gummy smile of the orange robed monks. Rather than it just being a physical action, your smile believe it or not is a complex combination of brain processes that can affect how you think, feel and are perceived by others.
One of the first things I talk to clients about in my Bulletproof coaching sessions is the power of a smile. Everyone says they smile, but when we uncover more of their life we find out that smiling is not even on their radar!
Have you ever had one of those days where it felt like the whole world was against you - your hair dryer broke mid-blow dry, then you spilt coffee all over yourself, missed an important meeting, and to top it off you got a ticket from parking in a yellow zone! Your brain starts circling around the idea that everything is horrible, your life totally stinks, and then you find yourself becoming irritable, anxious and totally unable to concentrate. (Yep, I’ve lived and survived those days, I’ve had too many to count!) Basically you become the human personification of Eeyore in high heels. HELLLLLLP! ( Good visual, huh?)
But then out of nowhere as you scroll through your facebook (or Insta) feed you spot an adorable picture of a puppy in a top hat and before you know it you’re beaming from ear to ear. Suddenly the world doesn’t seem so bad and you’re motivated and enthusiastic again. What Happened? That’s not just the magic of adorable puppies, it’s your body’s physiological reaction to your smile.
Why do we smile?
Across genders, races and socio-demographics throughout the world we’re able to recognize that a frown signifies that a person is upset or angry, but a smile can be a sign that someone is happy and content or that they’re so uncomfortable they’re trying to make the situation less painful for themselves - the difference can be hard to distinguish. I use to shine this incredibly fake smiles to one of the CFO’s who, I completely thought was ruining a company I was consulting with and guess what he never smiled back at me! (Side note, he did ruin the company!) But my point here is that my smile made my life easier when I was within eyeballs distance of Mr. Asshole!
A smile is as contagious as a yawn but infinitely more beneficial, so if somebody is smiling from ear to ear you will always have a hard time keeping your face straight. The science isn’t clear about why we started smiling in the first place, but the way our body reacts internally is enough to prove that your smile can affect your emotions, mood and mindset. Smiles are awesome!
While we might be able to tell if someone’s smile is fake or forced (it’s all about smiling with the eyes as Tyra Banks would always tell the contestants on America’s Next Top Model) it doesn’t actually matter if your smile is real or not if you’re wanting to reap the benefits from displaying your pearly whites. Reality check here, my husband totally knows when I’m faking it and tells me my eyes never lie… so remember this keen insight, our eyes tell everything!
How can smiling affect how you feel?
After a truly miserable day of mindless paper sorting, and two antagonizing phone conversations with the insurance company that made me so frustrated I thought I was going to call my local news station to complain as to make some important point that they would have me on the 5:00 news… Anyways, I was on my way to pick up Adrian with a head full of dark thoughts, while a big glass of wine years ago would have been the only bright spot on my horizon years ago, in this moment I started to pray. I truly thought that getting to sleep and hitting reset on my whole day was the only way to shake myself from the funk.
Then, just like every other day I stopped at the street light at the top of 17th, just in time to see a woman walking her dog down the street. Her dog was a solid beast of a thing, all rippling muscles, smashed face and sharp teeth, with a diamante collar and a fluffy pink jumper. Only as they passed did I realize that the woman and her dog were sporting matching outfits and for some reason the whole picture made me laugh out loud. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, I pulled over to take photo to share with you but she wasn’t too hip on that idea, so I continued on my journey.
I was grinning from ear to ear, thinking about how I would tell Adrian about it when I picked him up and how I would threaten him with getting crazy matching jumpers for the entire family! It didn’t take long for my horrible day to fade into mild annoyance as my mood picked up and I started singing along to Purple Rain, on the radio as I approached Adrian’s school.
Here’s good news, even a fake smile will start to release endorphins in your brain, which are the same feel-good chemicals that are released when you exercise or really enjoy a good piece of chocolate, or that first cup of coffee, delish! These same chemicals help us fight stress and anxiety, while also helping us encourage new neural pathways to form which are beneficial if we’re trying to change our mindset and break out of bad habits!
How can a simple smile change your state of mind?
I was on my way to the grocery store the other night with my head feeling a bit misty with a side of clouds! I wasn’t feeling particularly angry or happy, just kind of fuzzy and unmotivated, this happens every once in awhile, I’m human you know! As I headed towards the doors an elderly man in front of me dropped his change -- I stopped to pick it up and give it to him and when I handed him his changed I received a grateful smile and a thank you from the most adorable 92 year old man I’ve ever come into contact with. In that moment my cloudy horizon morphed into a sun shining smile, when I walked through the doors to shop all the fog had lifted from my brain, I was HAPPY!
was all set to walk around the grocery store staring aimlessly at different ingredients and agonizing over the contents in my basket, but once my mood had taken a more positive turn my whole mindset shifted. Suddenly I was brimming with ideas and was able to complete my shop and get home in no time. That’s the power of a smile!
Your smile will trigger the automatic emotional response which in turn will affect your mindset and your ability to make better decisions and react effectively. The next time you’re in an awkward situation start smiling, it’s the first step towards making yourself feel more comfortable. The endorphins released will help put you at ease, while your smile helps encourage you to interact with other people and enjoy yourself.
In the workplace, smiling can help to make you a better leader as it helps put people at ease and keep them motivated. Think back over your past jobs and consider all the times someone else’s bad mood discouraged your best work or the ways you were able to thrive thanks to the positivity of your boss’s grin.
How can smiling affect how we interact with people?
We already know that smiles are contagious and will spread throughout a room like wildfire, but even before your grin triggers a response in another person it has already relayed important information about you that will affect their opinion of you. Yep, that’s right.
We know that smiling makes you seem more approachable, after all you’re far more likely to strike up a conversation at a party with the person smiling by the snack table than the one scowling in the corner of the room, but a smile can also make you appear more empathetic and trustworthy because it suggests that you’re more personable and easy-going. I know from years of experience, a scowl is a deal breaker, while a smile opens doors, earns me a higher paycheck and always leads to more kisses! YES.
It’s obvious that smiling can have a powerful effect on your brain and your body’s ability to fight stress, so I want to share with you 10 ways to get yourself to smile more and reap the emotional and mental benefits ready?
9 QUICK WAYS TO HAPPINESS
Get those endorphins pumping and you’ll have a natural smile (not to mention a runner’s high) in no time.
2. Fresh flowers
The bright colours and beautiful scent should be enough to make you smile on their own, but they can also trigger powerful sense-memories that can bring a smile to your face.
3. Reminiscing -- about that first kiss, your first big adventure, come on I know you have something in there you can bring up...
If you’re stuck at your desk and forcing a smile isn’t cutting through your terrible mood then get up walk outside, take a couple of minutes to think back to something funny or enjoyable to make yourself smile.
4. Get some sunlight
Exposure to bright outdoor lighting is essential in creating a positive mood (and the number one reason so many of us get gloomy in the Winter) so open the shades and let some sunlight in.
You know how much I love this one… you can use this practice -- it’s only a minute long. Take a deep breath in for a count of 5, hold for 5 and exhale for 7.
Repeat for 60 seconds.A racing mind can lead to us feeling overwhelmed and depressed. Taking a few minutes to center ourselves and breathe will make you feel more relaxed and bring a smile to your face naturally.
Even if you’re completely tone-deaf you will still get a kick out of singing along to your favourite tunes, so pop in your earbuds and empty your lungs. Here’s a list of some of my favorite songs that change my mood every time! Can’t Hold Us (Macklemore featuring Ryan Lewis) Animals (Maroon 5) Don’t Let Me Down (The Beatles) Sympathy For Devil (The Rolling Stones) South Side (Moby featuring Gwen Stefani)
7. Get a hug
Hugging is known to activate the orbitofrontal cortex in your brain which is linked to feelings of compassion and reward while also helping to reduce the levels of stress-inducing hormones in your body. So hug away.
8. Complete a difficult task
Is there anything more satisfying than checking something off your to-do list that you’ve been avoiding? Get it done and you’ll be beaming as the enormous weight is lifted off your shoulders!
9. Have a tea break
Green tea and black coffee both contain properties that affect the mood and reduce feelings of stress. When combined with a moment of relaxation and perhaps a mindless scroll through Instagram you’ll be on an endorphin high in no time. This is what I drink!
Want more ideas on smiling, and adding happiness to your life? Grab a session with me and learn about upgrading your life for good!