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It is National Smile Week!

We spend trillions of dollars every year in the United States trying to improve our health. With supplements, fitness routines, gym memberships, doctor visits, dental checkups, and prescriptions, it adds up quickly. Yes, into the trillions! There are many ways you can personally save money and boost your health. There are even a few things you can do that are absolutely free. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to boost your health, your mood, your longevity, and even your success, is to smile.

Many see smiling simply as an involuntary response to things that bring you joy or laughter. While this observation is certainly true, most people overlook the reality that smiling can be a conscious, powerful choice.

Countless scientific studies have confirmed that a genuine smile is generally considered attractive to others around us. Other studies shed light on how the act of smiling elevates your mood and the mood of those around you. Additional research found a strong link between good health, longevity, and smiling. Most importantly, studies have shown​ that just the act of smiling (making the physical facial shapes and movements), whether the result of real joy or an act, can have both short- and long-term benefits on people’s health and wellbeing.

How Smiling Affects Your Brain

Each time you smile, you throw a little feel-good party in your brain. The act of smiling activates messaging that benefits your health and happiness.

Smiling Makes Us Feel Good

The serotonin release brought on by your smile serves as an antidepressant or mood lifter. Many of today’s pharmaceutical antidepressants also influence the levels of serotonin in your brain. With a smile, you do not have to worry about negative side effects or getting a prescription from your doctor.

Smiling Relieves Stress

Smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress. Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate. They facilitate messaging to the whole body when we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, or excited. The feel-good neurotransmitters — dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin — are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well. This not only relaxes your body, but it can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

Smile for Pain Relief

Endorphins act as a natural pain reliever — 100-percent organic and without the potential negative side effects of synthetic medications.

How Smiling Affects Your Body

Smiling Makes You Look Younger

You actually look better when you smile. Honestly! When you smile, people treat you differently. You are viewed as attractive, reliable, relaxed, trustworthy, and sincere.

Smiling Makes You Seem Successful

Studies have shown that people who smile regularly appear more confident, are more likely to be promoted, and are more likely to be approached.

Smiling Boosts Your Immune System

Smiling can boost your overall health. The act of smiling actually helps the human immune system to function more effectively. It is thought that when you smile, immune function improves because you are more relaxed (thanks to the release of certain neurotransmitters).

How Smiling Affects Those Around You

Did you know that your smile is actually contagious? The part of your brain that is responsible for your facial expression of smiling when happy or mimicking another’s smile resides in the cingulate cortex, an unconscious automatic response area. In a Swedish study, subjects were shown pictures of several emotions: joy, anger, fear, and surprise. When the picture of someone smiling was presented, the researchers asked the subjects to frown. Instead, they found that the facial expressions went directly to imitation of what subjects saw. It took a conscious effort to turn that smile into a frown. So if you are smiling at someone, it is likely they can not help but smile back.

So watch a funny movie, play more with your kids, or spend more time with someone who really lights you up. The smile on your face could literally make you happier, healthier, more effective, more attractive, and live a longer life. I hope those thoughts make you want to smile!

Carmen Keith, MD, IFMCP

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