Smiling Helps Recovery from Stress

We all know that when we feel good, we often smile. And what about the flip side? Can smiling cause us to feel better?

A recent study shows that smiling influences our physical state, and that smiling during brief stressors can help to reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response.

Research published in 2012 in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, explores the benefits of smiling by looking at how different types of smiling, and the awareness of smiling, affects individuals’ ability to recover from episodes of stress.

In this study, smiles were divided into two types: those involving just the mouth and those also including the muscles around the eyes. Those involving the eyes have historically been considered to be more genuine or “Duchenne” smiles, named after a French physician who studied smiles in the mid 19th century.

The challenge in this study was to create a control group of people who experienced the facial expression of smiling without the correlating emotional experience, and this was accomplished by using chopsticks. Participants were invited into a particular facial position with chopsticks arranged in their mouths, and they had no idea that they were mimicking smiling. Test results showed that people who smiled, whether they knew it or not, had lower heart rate levels and less stress.