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Monday, May 12, 2014

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The Science of Smiling: How This Simple Act Helps Alleviate Depression, Pain, and Even Cancer

Team - 5:20 AM

By Sean Suddes - expandedconsciousness

Charles Darwin is most well known for his theories of evolution, but he also developed the Facial Feedback Response Theory, which suggests that the act of smiling actually makes us feel better (rather than smiling being merely a result of feeling good).

Over the past few years researchers have proven this theory, and they found that smiling even when you are depressed or angry can improve your health, and overall mental well being.

Some people might think, ‘isn’t it disingenuous to smile while you are angry or depressed?’, but many have no issue with popping an anti-depressant.

The federal government estimates that 1 out of 10 people in the US are taking anti-depressants and ”according to a report released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the rate of antidepressant use in this country among teens and adults (people ages 12 and older) increased by almost 400% between 1988–1994 and 2005–2008.”

These numbers are astounding and it seems the trend will only continue upwards.

So how exactly can smiling positively effect your life and the lives of those around you?

“Two studies from 2002 and 2011 at Uppsala University in Sweden confirmed that other people’s smiles actually suppress the control we usually have over our facial muscles, compelling us to smile. They also showed that it’s very difficult to frown when looking at someone who smiles.

Why? Because smiling is evolutionarily contagious and we have a subconscious innate drive to smile when we see one. This occurs even among strangers when we have no intention to connect or affiliate with the other person. Mimicking a smile and experiencing it physically helps us interpret how genuine a smile is, so that we can understand the real emotional state of the smiler.”

In 2009 researchers at Echnische Universit├Ąt in Munich Germany injected participants with Botox to suppress their facial ability to smile. Then they used MRI brain scans to compare the neural connections in the brain with and without Botox.

The researchers concluded that smiling actually modifies our neural processing in the brain in a positive way, and this act alone increased happiness.

Smiling actually stimulates our brain more than chocolate, a well regarded pleasure inducer.

“In a study conducted in the UK (using an electromagnetic brain scan machine and heart-rate monitor to create “mood-boosting values” for various stimuli), British researchers found that one smile can provide the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars; they also found that smiling can be as stimulating as receiving up to 16,000 Pounds Sterling in cash. That’s 25 grand a smile!”

Smiling has documented therapeutic effects that have shown to reduce stress hormones, increased health and mood enhancing hormone levels (like endorphins), and lowered blood pressure.

Perhaps the one of the most amazing benefits that smiling offers is that of pain relief. ”Remembering that laughter has powerful benefits should get you smiling. In fact, psychoneuroimmunology is a field of research dedicated to deciphering the relationship between human behavior (in this case, laughing) and the mind, and how it affects the immune system [source: Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology].”

“White blood cells that seem to respond positively to laughter arelymphocytes, which originate in bone marrow and include B cells (to fight infections) and T cells (to attack viruses and manage immune responses) [sources: National Cancer Institute,Pattillo and Itano]. Interferon-gamma levels have also been shown to increase with laughter (interferons assist immunological responsiveness and deter tumor growth) [source: National Cancer Institute].‪”

So the next time you find yourself in pain, depressed, or low in health give yourself a smile!

Benefits of Laughter Yoga with John Cleese

Ron Gutman: The hidden power of smiling

Harvard Health

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