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13 Jun

Putting that smile on your dial

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Ever wondered how we can make our happy hormones – serotonin and endorphins – work for us? Aside from eating cheesecake and riding roller coasters, serotonin and endorphins can be made to work our little hamster wheels of happiness in more practical and everyday ways…and, as it turns out, the act of smiling is an easy solution to a frown. To put it simply, we are wired to ‘like’ smiling. The physical act of a smile, through the various muscle contractions of the face actually sends a signal to the brain that it is happy, which, in a strange feedback loop driven by endorphins then tells the face muscles to smile even more. In other words, you can really make yourself happy with a smile.

The trouble is, not all smiles are made equal…a fake or pretend smile – the one we usually reserve for the CEO or cousin Tarquin – don’t drive that feedback loop of joy. For a smile to actually work, it has to be a real one – a ‘Duchenne smile’ as it’s called in the psychology business. This smile uses the zygomatic major muscle in the cheeks and the orbicularis oculi around the eyes to work in unison. It sounds complicated, but this is the genuine smile – it may last less than a second, but we will be compelled to smile back when we see one…with the same smile. A pretend smile on the other hand can only use the zygomatic major, the eye muscles cannot be willed to smile, so a forced or pretend smile will always look different to the real thing.

So that’s the Duchenne smile in a nutshell, but what difference can it make to our lives knowing a real smile from a pretend one? Well, thanks, to the numerous studies, several being based on school yearbook photos, we can say a real smile makes a big difference to your life. The yearbook studies, one dating back to 1952, picked out the kids with the best and least genuine smiles and investigated their life experiences in the big bad post-school world of reality. Those with the biggest, happiest smiles ended up with the happiest and most fulfilled lives. Of course, was this the smile? The positive attitude? Or the infectious nature of a genuine smile that fulfilled those happy lives?

Well, for starters, a happy person will be attractive to others, so that Duchenne smile may not meet Mr Loneliness as often as the non-genuine provider. The Duchenne smile is also perceived as more trustworthy, and we are more likely to go above and beyond for a happy colleague than the grump. In other words, that winning Duchenne smile will mean you’ll more often get what you want, when you want, from who you want…so no wonder happy people keep on staying happy.

But what happens if the Duchenne smile doesn’t come easy to you? Well, here’s the breakdown – the average person smiles 20-times a day. A ‘happy’ person manages to double that to 40 or 50 Duchennes a day. However kids can smile 400-times a day. So what does that tell us? We get old and grumpy? Yep, maybe…but is that because we forget what made us happy as a child? Kids find countless things amusing. As adults we need to do the same to get that winning smile. Read a funny book, watch a funny movie, tell a funny joke…tell a bad joke, it doesn’t matter, as long as it puts an extra few smiles on your face each day, then you will get to know the advantages of the winning Duchenne smile.

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Putting that smile on your dial

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