Saturday, September 21, 2013

Smile and Laugh, The Benefits Will Surprise You

By George M. Graham Jr.

Dale Carnegie, in his book, How To Win Friends & Influence People, included a chapter entitled, “A Simple Way To Make A Good First Impression.” In this chapter he shares that the principle to making a good first impression is to smile.

If you don’t feel like smiling – what do you do? Carnegie says, “…force yourself to smile... Act as if you were already happy, and that will tend to make you happy.” He goes on to share how the psychologist and philosopher William James described this process.

“Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”

Studies show that wearing a smile can bring about benefits for the individual. A genuine smile, referred to as a Duchenne smile, involves changes in the muscles around the eyes and the mouth.

The facial changes involved with smiling seem to have a direct affect on brain activities that are associated with happiness by releasing endorphins into the brain. Studies indicate that smiling and laughing reduce stress hormones which will increase the efficiency of the immune system.

Research suggests that those who smile more may live longer than those who smile less. Another study indicated that laughing can be a total body workout. It lowers blood pressure, increases vascular blood flow and the oxygenation of the blood.

I recently read that a smile uses approximately 36 muscles, but a frown uses approximately 97 muscles. A smile releases the muscles on your scalp, which in turn lets the blood flow more easily. As you continue to smile, which is releasing oxygen into the brain, you actually become happier.

By smiling more and frowning less, you can influence your mental health and elicit more positive connections with others – smiles have an impact on social relationships. A genuine smile can send a message that people can trust you and will increase their willingness to trust you. Smiling sends a signal to others of your willingness to cooperate and it enhances our attractiveness.

As a young man, I used to enjoy watching a television program called “House Party,” hosted by Art Linkletter. As part of the show, Mr. Linkletter would interview a panel of kids individually. The responses of the kids were not always what he expected. The many humorous things they said led him to write a book entitled, Kids Say The Darndest Things.

As an example, on one show, Mr. Linkletter asked a little boy what his father did for a living. Here is how the rest of the conversation unfolded.

Little boy: “My father’s a school teacher.”
Mr. Linkletter: “That’s a fine profession. Does he like it?”
Little boy: “He only has one thing to complain about.”
Mr. Linkletter: “What’s that?”
Little boy: “The kids.”

One study indicated that healthy children laugh as much as 400 times a day, whereas adults, on average, laugh only 15 times per day. Maybe we can learn something from children. Another study indicates that you can still benefit from the effects of smiling and laughter even if it is faked. The body cannot tell the difference between the fake and the real – the physical benefits are still the same.

Norman Cousins, a former editor of the "Saturday Review," shares his personal story of overcoming a deteriorating condition in his book Anatomy Of An Illness As Perceived By The Patient. After learning that his chances of survival were not very good, Cousins left the hospital and checked himself into a hotel.

Cousins took charge of his own recovery program, and he acquired a movie projector along with some Marx Brothers’ movies and episodes of Candid Camera. He watched these programs and laughed his way back into good health. In his book, he states, “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.”

He later went on to explain that laughter included a full range of positive emotions such as hope, faith, love, humor, creativity, playfulness, great expectations, and the will to live. Cousins believed all of this contributed to the improvement of his condition.

There are many other experiments and studies that indicate that Cousins was on to something – laughter can be helpful to your health in many ways. Studies have shown laughter appears to travel through a circuit that runs through many regions of the brain.

One simple step you can take to help yourself deal with a busy, stressed out, and overwhelming life is to laugh. It has been said that laughter is the best medicine, and it has been proven through research and numerous studies. It can provide not only physical benefits, but also emotional, social, and psychological benefits as well. It can change a person’s outlook from hopelessness to hopefulness.

Some things you can do to increase your smiling and laughing:

  • Read a funny book or the funny pages/comic strips
  • Watch a funny movie or TV show
  • Play with children
  • Play with your pet
  • Spend time with people who have a sense of humor
  • Be spontaneous - do something silly
  • Count your blessings
  • Laugh at yourself – don’t take yourself so seriously
  • Participate in laugh therapy
  • Laugh out loud
  • Look for humor in life
  • Make having fun a priority, especially with family and close friends
  • Remember, smile and the world smiles with you.

You can laugh or smile any time, any place, and even if you are all alone. It only takes making a decision and training yourself to look for the possibilities to smile and laugh. You can choose to follow after ways to experience laughter which will help bring about positive changes. It will benefit you, and more importantly, it will benefit others.