Smile and Pass it on

Discover the hidden science behind the simple yet powerful act of smiling, and how it triggers positive changes in brain activity.

A lot of hypnotherapy is about accessing positive and resourceful states to help you be more healthy, happy and successful.  There are simple ways you can influence your biochemistry to feel less stress and boost your mood.  One of these is smiling.

We know smiling is good, but what goes on outside of our conscious awareness when we smile?

Smiling produces changes in brain activity that corresponds to a happier mood.  It activates our limbic system – the part of our brain responsible for processing emotions.

The hypothalamus, which is responsible for how we physically respond to emotions, is also triggered.  In response to a smile feel good endorphins, serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters are released.  Endorphins make us feel good and act as a natural pain reliever, serotonin acts as an anti-depressant boosting our mood, and dopamine increases our feelings of pleasure and reward.  One study found that a smile can provide the same stimulation level in the brain as eating 2000 chocolate bars!

Smiling also improves our stress levels, because when we smile our stress hormones (e.g. cortisol and adrenaline) reduce and our blood pressure and heart rate lower.  A study published by Psychological Science concluded that smiling while completing a stressful task lowered stress indicators such as heart rate.

Besides making us feel good and reducing stress, smiling may help us increase our life span.  A study by Wayne State University reviewing baseball cards of Major League Players found that the players with wide beaming smiles lived on average 7 years longer than their non-smiling team mates.


Smiling also positively influences how others perceive us.  Research from Penn State university found that when we smile people are more likely to perceive us as courteous, competent and more likeable.   A Boston College study found that those who smiled in mug shots (taken for being potentially guilty of academic violations) were more likely to be perceived as trustworthy, and received a more lenient punishment.   And a study by the University of Aberdeen found smiling increases our attractiveness to both sexes.

Real or faking it?

Neurologist Guillaume Duchenne identified the facial muscles involved in a genuine smile.  The ‘Duchenne Smile’ is a full smile that not only involves the muscles around the mouth but also the muscles around the eyes.  The orbicularis oculi (the muscle to the side of the eyes) contracts causing creases or crows feet.

Detecting whether a smile is genuine can be difficult, Duchenne identified that movement of the eye muscles is the key to detecting whether a smile is real or not.  You can check your own smile detection prowess on this BBC test.

How to get the most miles with your Smiles 

Research suggests the most benefits are gained from a Duchenne smile.  However, if you’re going to fake it these tips from scientific research will help you get the mood enhancing and stress reducing benefits of a smile:


·        Smile a wide, beaming smile that shows your teeth and creases the sides of your eyes, so  the end of your eyebrows dip slightly

·        Think of a happy memory

·        Smile at yourself in the mirror

Pay it forward - Smile at others

When you smile at other people mirror neurons in their brains light up, just as if they themselves are the ones smiling.  Because of this contagious response, like yawning, they will find it difficult not to smile back.  Research studies from Uppsala University in Sweden explain that when someone smiles at you, your cingulated cortex responds automatically causing you to smile – so it’s difficult without considerable conscious effort to suppress returning the smile.


So why not make smiling one of your joy triggers and…  spread the joy!