Leslie Becker-Phelps Ph.D.

Making Change

How a Simple Smile Can Help Change Your Life

Learn to harness the power of your smile.

Posted Jan 20, 2020

Nevil Zaveri/flickr
Source: Nevil Zaveri/flickr

Happiness can literally make you feel lighter inside, a bit like having some helium in your body. It usually only lasts a short time, but reflecting back on it can conjure up at least a ghost of the feeling, if not the full-bodied experience. Though happiness is a filter that makes the world appear to shine, it can also be frustratingly elusive when you need an emotional lift. Still, there are as many ways to rediscover it as there are the kinds of experiences that can potentially make you happy. But one of the ubiquitously available and best ones—because it requires so little from you—is enlisting the help of your smile.

The secret to your smile’s power is in the fact that your body recognizes happiness and smiling as going together. When the chemicals in your brain create the feeling of happiness, you will naturally smile. And fortunately, when you smile, your body often responds by producing those same “happiness hormones.” (In case you are interested, those chemicals are dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.)

You can unleash the power of your smile in these four ways:

Identify something positive and smile. When you want to feel a bit happier, look for something positive in your environment or within you. It could be noticing the beautiful mountains outside your window or the peaceful moment of awakening early when all the world still seems to be sleeping. Just noticing a positive often makes people more aware, even grateful, but not necessarily feeling happier. So, choose to smile as you focus upon your chosen positive. Then pay attention to what you sense in your body—it might add that missing piece to your intellectual awareness of positives in your life.

Hold a half-smile. Borrowed from Buddhism, the technique of holding a half-smile has been shown effectively increase happiness. Try it for yourself. With your facial muscles generally relaxed, gently turn up the corners of your mouth. If someone were looking at you, they might not even notice it because the half-smile will be so slight. Hold the half-smile for at least ten minutes. Pay attention to whether your body feels even just a little more relaxed and whether you feel any lighter and happier.

Smile when interacting with others. Think of smiling as a social activity. When people see you smiling, something in them (more specifically, mirror neurons in their brains) may resonate, making them feel happier. Then they will likely smile back, and you will—in turn—feel a bit happier. It’s a feedback loop that can both coax warmer feelings from each of you and then help maintain that more positive feeling.

Pay attention to any sense of disconnection or emotional pain you may feel when you smile. Flashing a smile is not the equivalent of waving a happiness wand. So, rather than trying to demand joyful feelings from yourself, respect your natural reaction. Allow for it, consciously connecting with your genuine experience. Only by letting your painful emotions flow through you can you then find true inner peace and happiness.

Whether your smile prompts happiness or is the result of happiness (or both), these are honest experiences that can give you an emotional lift. Think of your smile as a tool that, when used properly, can fill you with some emotional helium, lifting your spirits.

If you would like to learn more about this topic, check out this brief video:

(If the video is not appearing here, you can see it on Youtube: Just the Thing to Help When You're Feeling a Bit Down.)

Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.

Making change through compassionate self-awareness