Smiling More, Even When You Don’t Feel Like it, Can Make You Happier

· September 13, 2018

Smiling more is something a lot of people have on their to-do lists. But it’s not as easy a goal as most people think. Sometimes you have to do it even if you don’t really feel like it. This is part of the simple theory that being happy makes you smile and that smiling makes you happy.

The theory is based on the idea that the way you communicate with your body also affects your emotions. If you generally have a slouched posture and a sad expression on your face, you’ll probably enter that frame of mind. To put it another way, it’s almost like your non-verbal communication has “side effects” on you.

Smiling more can help you feel happier.

The functions of smiles

Smiling is a universal gesture. This means that all humans do it, no matter what culture they’re from. The interesting thing is that it’s not just for showing that you’re joyful or happy. There are actually three different kinds of smiles:

  • Happiness smile. This is the most well-known smile. You use it to communicate your happiness. Showing the world you’re happy helps you feel satisfied or fulfilled.
  • Social smile. This kind of smile isn’t about happiness. You use it to convey a sense of security to those around you. You use this smile to show people that they can trust you, that they have nothing to worry about from you. It’s the kind of smile you use on the streets, at the grocery store line, etc. Basically, you use it with people you don’t know.
  • Superiority smile. You use this smile to convey arrogance and seem more important to other people. It’s a sign of pride and a sign of the idea that’s in your head when you do it: you feel better than everyone else around you.
Woman smiling to feel happier.


Smiling more leads to happiness

It might be hard to believe, but having a more relaxed, happy posture will make you feel (get this) relaxed and happy. Smiling more is just another example of something in your physical behavior that can make you happy. There was even a study Fritz Strack did in the 80s that proves it.

In the study, two groups of people were shown comic strips. One group had to read the comics with a pencil in their mouth and the other group with nothing. The pencil stimulated the zygomaticus major muscle, which is the muscle we use to smile.

The group with the pencil was much more open to the humorous content than the non-pencil group. That made the researchers conclude that physiologically replicating a smile can lead to a positive mood.

This became a very influential theory in psychology because it stated that physical expressions could lead to specific emotions. It’s just like how emotions can lead to specific physical expressions.

The controversy surrounding the Strack study

After that first study, scientists tried to replicate his results. Unfortunately, none of them have gotten results as clear as his. Hence, there has been no experiment since that has given solid support to the Strack study.

In fact, if you try to do it at home in front of a mirror, another well-known phenomenon will probably interfere: the placebo effect. Thanks to it, you can sometimes get results out of processes, medications, or treatments that don’t actually work.

Exercises to get yourself to smile (and be happy)

With all that in mind, the question is whether there are exercises to help you smile more. Professor Laurie Santos of Yale University has started teaching a course called “Psychology and the Good Life” about just this. It’s the most popular class in Yale’s history. In it, she talks about 5 things you can do every day to increase your sense of happiness:

1. Make a gratitude list

A few times a week, if not every single night, you should take out a notebook or journal and write down all the things you’re grateful for. You can use these questions to help you: what do you have in your life that makes you happy and/or whose presence in your life are you grateful for?

2. Get better sleep

This isn’t necessarily about sleeping more, but about getting better sleepAs you get older, the idea of sleeping 8 hours a day seems like heaven. It also seems like, as you get older, you don’t need to sleep as much. There’s also the fact that you have more problems that make it harder for you to fall asleep.

But everyone knows that getting good sleep has a ton of benefits. For one thing, it helps your hormonal system function properly. That impacts other bodily systems and functions like metabolism, digestion, and concentration.

A woman sleeping.

3. Meditate

You can improve your overall mood with just 10 minutes of daily meditation. Meditation goes back centuries and is more than proven. It also has one amazing quality: doing it can improve your ability to be mindful.

4. Spend time with loved ones

Spending time with the people you love helps you relax, forget your obligations, and be happier. That’s because social connection and interpersonal relationships involve a lot of moments of happiness: vacations, parties, celebrations, games…

5. Spend less time on social media

Of course, spending more time with your loved ones also means spending less time with other forms of communication. For example: exchanging messages with people through your screens.

It’s true that social media has a lot of benefits to it, but “real relationships” should never have to suffer for it. Take a second to think about how, when it comes to a subjective view of your quality of life, real connections are much more important. A smile isn’t worth much if the only way you can share it is by using an emoticon.

Before we go, we just have one more thing to say: don’t forget to smile more!