Positive psychology, illness, and smiling may sound like strange bedfellows indeed, but when we look closer we find some surprising connections. Of all the tools in positive psychology’s toolbox, smiling is perhaps the easiest to perform, the quickest acting, and the most effective in bringing about the tremendously positive effects discovered by positive psychology research…and one that is sorely needed throughout the illness journey.

Can smiling have an effect on our personalities? Can smiling have a positive effect upon illness? Psychological research that looks at the effects of smiling all seems to arrive at a universal conclusion: smiling is the key to a positive outlook on life. The positive effects of smiling are legion: improved immune function, increased tolerance for pain and frustration, lowered stress and blood pressure, and even higher levels of creativity. Dr. Robert Ammens of the University of California at Davis and Dr. Michael McCulloch at the University of Miami have documented surprising results of regularly practicing the tools of positive psychology. These results include being less materialistic; more generous; less depressed, anxious, and envious; and being more empathetic, helpful, energetic, determined, joyful, and strong. Such persons also experienced clearer thinking, increased resilience, fewer illnesses, and reported living less cluttered lives.

Interestingly, and very importantly, the positive effects of smiling are seen whether the smile is genuine or “forced.” Evidently the mind doesn’t know the difference and reacts similarly to either. Research also points to the fact that smiling has dramatic effects on personal interactions. Smiling seems to increase altruism; smiling people simply get more help/aid/assistance from others. Smiling people are more attractive and approachable than they otherwise would be.

The Power of Smiling

Dr. Mark Stibich, Ph.D. offers us ten general ways that smiling affects us positively: relationally, emotionally, behaviorally, and psychologically.
See http://longevity.about.com/od/lifelongbeauty/tp/smiling.htm for more information.

Smiling—

  1. Makes us attractive. We are drawn to people who smile. Frowns, scowls, and grimaces all push people away, but a smile draws them in.
  2. Changes our mood. It’s hard to be “moody” when we’re wearing a smile. A smile can “trick” our bodies into shifting our mood in a positive direction.
  3. Is contagious. A smile brightens up all those around us; it makes our lives happier.
  4. Relieves stress. Smiling saves us from appearing tired, worn down, and overwhelmed—all of which increase our internal stress levels.
  5. Boosts our immune system. Our immune system is hyper-sensitive to our mood; when we smile, we boost our mood which also strengthens our immune system making us less vulnerable to everything from colds and flu to infections of all types—even illness.
  6. Lowers our blood pressure. When we reduce our stress, we experience a corresponding decrease in hypertension (high blood pressure).
  7. Releases endorphins, natural painkillers, and serotonin. All of these are chemicals that our bodies naturally produce. Endorphins increase our overall sense of well-being. Natural painkillers fight pain of all types, and serotonin regulates our mood.
  8. Injects more tone, freshness, and vibrancy into our appearance. Smiling shapes our faces in such a way that we look younger. Smiling works like a natural face lift. Smiling is an anti-gravity “miracle drug” that re-sculpts our facial muscles and gives us a new vitality.
  9. Makes us seem successful. Smiling raises our confidence level, gives us enhanced self-esteem, and improves our overall poise; all these give us an air of success.
  10. Helps us stay positive. Smiling is our best “attitude adjustment.” It’s hard to think of something negative when we’re smiling.

Smiling Can Change Your Personality

How can we combine the best of positive psychology with the enlightened quest of smiling to create a new climate for healing our illness or vitalizing our caregiving? Smiling does seem to bring about personality change in a positive direction. The change potential of a smile can be experienced either internally or externally. Internally, smiling offers much.

It can—

  • Generate a new mental attitude.
  • Bring about a change in insight or outlook.
  • Shift our thoughts from negative to positive.
  • Stimulate new, more positive emotional reactions.
  • Activate new choices that bring personality growth.
  • Move us to action.

External changes are those that other people can see. While our attitudes, perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and even our decisions lay hidden beneath the surface, others do see our behaviors and actions…what we do! So smiling has the power to actually change our behavior! This change is most important because it’s only by our actions (behavior) that others come to see us, engage with us, and evaluate us. Fortunately or not, we’re judged by our actions.