February 28, 2013 – The commonsensical notion that smiling can affect our moods and make us, and others, feel happier, has gotten a lot of press lately. Books on achieving happiness, research on effects of different types of smiles all point to the positive impact of smiling, and songs have all touted the virtues of thinking happy thoughts and putting on a happy face to stimulate happiness.
And so, the recent lead article in the Wall Street Journal’s Personal Journal Section – “Stress-Busting Smiles” – was not unexpected. What surprised me was the while reading the article I kept humming the Grateful Dead tune “He’s Gone.” The Deadheads among you will quickly understand the connection.
Previous research on the effects of smiling suggested that only the pure, heartfelt smiles known as Duchenne Smiles, genuine, full smiles which activate the major muscles around the mouth and the eyes, had a positive impact on the person’s health and attitude towards life. Other, less natural, smiles did not grant the same benefits. The new research cited in the article made a bolder claim: All smiles possess the power to increase our sense of happiness. Moreover, there is hope that further research will show the correlation between smiling and lower heart rates and lower levels of cortisol, a “stress hormone.” The underlying theory of this research is that the muscular activity involved in smiling sends a message of safety to the brain which then results in lower heart rates and lower stress levels.
This is indeed good news. For although we may not feel in the mood for a Duchenne Smile, we all can muster up enough strength to put on a happy face and smile.
Lest you think is a New Age concept, consider the tune “Put on a Happy Face” written for the Broadway play “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1960.
“Take off the gloomy mask of tragedy,
It’s not your style;
You’ll look so good that you’ll be glad
Ya’ decide to smile!
“Pick out a pleasant outlook,
Stick out that noble chin;
Wipe off that “full of doubt” look,
Slap on a happy grin!
And spread sunshine all over the place,
Just put on a happy face!”
Lyrics: Lee Adams.
“Pick out a pleasant outlook.” We all have the power to choose our outlooks, our perspectives, the lenses through which we view the world and live our lives. Each of us has the ability to “slap on a happy face” even if we are feeling sad and gloomy. So why not choose the happier route? And this fits in well with all the current research on happiness. As Sonja Lyubomirsky found in her research, fully 40% of our ability to achieve happiness is attributable to our own efforts. Sure, there are times when we feel sad. Tragedies happen. Disappointments are natural reactions to some of life’s events. The lesson here is that we have the power to choose whether to dwell on the unhappy feelings, or whether to put in the effort to effect a shift in mindset and allow a more positive approach to guide us.
If happiness is too lofty a goal for today, then considering the stress reducing qualities of smiling should be enough of an incentive to replace the frown with a smile.
Back to the Dead. For those of you who are not Deadheads (or for those Deadheads who are are feeling a bit befuddled) here is the first half of “He’s Gone” which I referred to earlier
“Rat in a drain ditch, caught on a limb You know better, but I know him.
“Like I told you, like I said
Steal your face right off your head.
“And now he’s gone
Now he’s gone, Lord he’s gone…
“Nine mile skid on a ten mile ride
Hot as a pistol but cool inside
“Cat on a tin roof, dogs in a pile
Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile…”
Lyrics: Robert Hunter. Music: Jerry Garcia.
Although originally written in response to their manager’s absconding with a lot of the band’s money, the Grateful Dead often played the song when someone close to the band died. Compounding the tragedy of this song is that the manager was the father of one of the band members. As such there is a sense of melancholy as Jerry sings and the Dead play this tune. Yet, even in the face of tragedy, whether personal or financial, Hunter and the Dead advise us to “smile, smile, smile.”
Remember, though events in our lives may be stress evoking, or make us sad, we do have the power to overcome – to fight back if you will – and choose the pleasant outlook, the perspective, we want to utilize to engage the world, and smile smile smile.
Consider the Possibilities.
Adam J. Krim www.driveconsulting.net