We’ve all been told to just ‘grin and bear it’ at some points in our lives, but a new study by psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas could have found a health connection between smiling and feeling healthier.
The study, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, looked into the potential benefits of smiling examining how different types of smiling, and the awareness of smiling, affects individuals’ ability to recover from episodes of stress.
Ms Kraft said: “Age old adages, such as ‘grin and bear it’ have suggested smiling to be not only an important non-verbal indicator of happiness but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life’s stressful events.
“We wanted to examine whether these adages had scientific merit; whether smiling could have real health-relevant benefits.”
Through various different studies involving over 100 test subjects, the scientists found that those who smile had lower heart rate levels after recovery from stressful activities than those who did not smile. Some participants were forced to smile during the exercise, and they reported a smaller decrease in positive affect compared to those who held neutral facial expressions.
The findings highlight that smiling during brief stressors can help to reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy, adding credence to the old British phrase; “keep calm and carry on”.
“The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress,” says Pressman, “you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment. Not only will it help you ‘grin and bear it’ psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well!”