Mustering a Smile, Even a Fake One, is Good for the Heart

Smiling is beneficial for many reasons. It can diffuse a stressful or awkward situation, get others to like or trust you, and even help you live longer. A new study by University of Kansas researchers published in Psychological Science calculated the effects of different types of smiling. They found that genuine smiles helped lower heart rates and stress levels after a stressful situation. Though not as much as authentic smiles, forced smiles also reaped health benefits.

“The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment. Not only will it help you ‘grin and bear it’ psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well!” said Sarah Pressman, one of the authors of the study, in a statement.

To find this out, the researchers had 169 participants hold chopsticks in their mouths while they performed an activity such as holding their hand in ice water or not looking while they drew a shape with their non-dominant hand. The activities were intended to be difficult and boost anxiety levels for the participants, though they weren’t told that. The chopsticks either forced a neutral expression, a standard smile that engaged mouth muscles, or a genuine smile that engaged both mouth and eye muscles. Half of the group was also told to smile, while the other half was not.

Researchers then analyzed the participants’ heart rates and self-reported stress levels. Those with genuine smiles reported the best heart rates and lowest stress levels, and those with forced smiles fared better than the participants who held neutral expressions. Participants instructed to smile along with the chopsticks making them also had lower stress than the neutral expression group.

So the adage to ‘grin and bear it’ actually holds scientific merit! Despite what mood you are in, smiling helps reduce stress and deliver loads of other healthy benefits, as well as brightening yours and other people’s days.

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