Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Keep Smiling!



From a poem, author unknown:


 "As you travel on life's ways, with its many ups and downs,

 Remember it's quite true to say, one smile is worth a dozen frowns.

 Among the world's expensive things, a smile is very cheap.

 And when you give a smile away, you get one back to keep."


"Keep Smiling" is the latest Advice Line article on stress management as requested by Chatham County Line readers. We worry and frown when we find ourselves reacting to the dismal economy, political dissension, wars, famines and other bad news headlined daily in the newspapers and TV. Yet, when we frown we bring all that misery into our lives, our bodies, our homes and our families. Research psychologists studying the facial muscles used in expressions of anger and worry voluntarily assumed these emotions in order to chart and list the muscles involved. Lo and behold they found themselves feeling glum, angry and depressed after several hours of such study.  Let's avoid their fate!


Today, here, in North Carolina, let's choose happiness instead of misery and practice it by smiling. First, we need to practice real smiling. You all know how to paste on a fake smile and say cheese to the camera or muster up a socially polite smile when necessary. "Pretend" emotions will only make you feel like an imposter. A warm, genuine smile is a smile with your eyes as well as your mouth.  When you smile with your eyes you'll feel your eyes lighting up, twinkling, your eye muscles crinkling. While you do this, pay attention to your thoughts. You'll find yourself thinking happy or joyful thoughts as you get your eyes to smile. Research has shown that you can't fake a smile with your eyes. Now try thinking angry thoughts. You won't be able to put your face into a genuine smile!


But why would we want to smile anyway? I'll discuss the personal effects of smiling and then I'll describe the effects on others. Smiling is a natural happiness drug. Smiling releases pleasure hormones called endorphins, natural painkillers and antidepressant hormones such as serotonin. Smiling reduces stress and boosts your immune system.  You can even measure this response quickly with your blood pressure monitor. Take a blood pressure reading, then smile for a few minutes and take another reading.  You'll likely find your blood pressure decreasing as you "chill out."  Grab a mirror to test out the effect of smiling on your appearance. Smiling actually makes you look younger, attractive, confident and successful.  After you try these experiments, check out your mood. You'll find you feel more positive and optimistic. Your thoughts will naturally have turned to the positives in your life. When you smile your body is sending itself the message that "life is good!" You'll find it harder to think negative thoughts while you're smiling.  Research has linked smiling to happiness, optimism, successful marriages, good health and positive longevity.


Smiling is contagious; smiling will draw people to you and will improve their moods and yours in return.  People will smile back when you smile at them, the mood and atmosphere will lighten up and everyone will feel happier. When we smile at others we actually magnify our own pleasure and happiness. Frowns, scowls and grimaces push people away, but smiles attract positive attention. A smile is welcoming and makes people feel more at ease. Smiles are heartwarming and have the power to cheer others and make them feel good about themselves. As the old saying goes: "Smile and the world smiles with you."  A smile is a powerful weapon… it's even an icebreaker!


But what if you don't feel like smiling?  Make a happiness list and keep it somewhere you can find when you are down and depressed. These days, when we hear bad news constantly pushed at us, it does feel harder and harder to find a smile. But why should we double our misery by taking all that pain inside? Let me suggest a few smile generators for your happiness list: watching a baby pop out that great toothless smile when you bring your face close to the infant; playing with a pet; drinking hot chocolate after a cold day outside; watching a beautiful sunrise or a sky-blue-pink sunset; holding hands with someone special; smelling chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven; sinking into a warm bubble bath; lying in the sun on the beach. Helping others should also be a source of joy and pride for us. So make your happiness list and smile!