“Better to be the one who smiled, than the one who didn’t smile back.”

This is a popular quote circulating through social media sites at the moment. I cannot find a credible source for who originally said it, but it got me thinking: How often do I walk down the street with a scowl on my face, lost in the stories and worries of my own mind? How often do you do the same?

I always feel a twinge of guilt when I make eye contact with someone and they flash me a wonderful smile, only to be met by my frowning face. Therefore, I was recently inspired to do some research on smiling. It turns out that the simple activation of those small muscles around our mouths can have a big impact on our mood, and the moods of those around us. As the old saying goes, attitudes really are contagious.

Every time we smile our brains release endorphins that help relieve stress, relieve pain, and promote a happier and more optimistic mood. This is true whether our smiles are genuine or forced. It is the activation of the muscles around the mouth and eyes that prompts the release of ‘feel good’ chemicals in our brains.

Amazingly, the same chemical reactions are set off when we simply see someone else smiling. Dubbed “mirror neurons”, the brain responds to observing others smile just as if you are actually smiling yourself. This means that when you smile, you are helping lift your own mood as well as your neighbor’s.

Last but not least, people who smile more often are viewed as more attractive, approachable, and competent than those who do not.

Try out a big smile the next time you are walking around in public, you may be surprised by what happens next!

By Jared Rogers
Exercise Physiologist and Personal Trainer
Duke Center For Living at Fearrington

References:
Jonah Lehrer. The Mirror Neuron Revolution: Explaining What Makes Humans Social.
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-mirror-neuron-revolut/.
Sarah Stevenson. There’s Magic in Your Smile. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201206/there-s-magic-in-your-smile.