A recent study found that the old adage ‘grin and bear it’ has some merit .. suggesting that smiling is not just an important nonverbal indicator of happiness, but also that a wishful promotion of smiling can be a tonic for life’s stressful events.

A research study conducted by Tara Kraft from the University of Kansas Grin and bear it: Smiling facilitates stress recovery [Published July 30, 2012 in Association for Psychological Science] recruited 169 participants from a university in the Midwest for an experiment into smiling and stress. Subjects were trained to maintain one of three different facial expressions – neutral, standard smile and emphatic smile, and then were instructed to smile.

Those bearing big emphatic smiles, had lower heart rates after stressful tasks compared to subjects who held neutral facial expressions.

The study results also suggested that smiling may actually influence our physical state: compared to participants who held neutral facial expressions, participants who were instructed to smile, and in particular those with Duchenne smiles (a genuine smile), had lower heart rate levels after recovery from the stressful activities.

So it would appear that smiling during brief moments of stress can support a reduction in the intensity of the body’s stress response. Regardless of whether a person actually feels happy.

“The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress,” says Sarah Pressman,  a partner in the study, “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!”

And, smiling doesn’t just benefit you on the inside. A study from Penn State University found that it also works to your advantage from the outside; finding that people who smile appear to be more likeable, courteous. and even competent.

In past studies smiling has been shown to reduce blood pressure, assist the immune system to work better, and activates the release of neuropeptides and endorphins, natural pain killers and serotonin = together these hormones make us feel good.

When you smile, your brain notices .. it sends a message ‘yeah this feels good‘ and then the more you smile, the more effective you are at breaking the brain’s natural tendency to think negatively. Smile often enough and you can end up rewiring your brain to more easily shift into more positive patterns, and release stress.

Let’s try this simple exercise:

1. Smile or try repeating the vowel sound “e” which naturally stretches the corner of the mouth outward

2. Now try to think of something negative without losing the smile.

Almost impossible!

The more you train yourself to smile, the easier it will become to think positively, reduce negativity bias, and, in turn, boost productivity and creativity .. of which means you will perform (and feel) better at life.

“Joy is the feeling of grinning inside”

Melba Colgrove

Of course .. we humans have known this intuitively for thousands of years.  Take some smiling into your meditation: read more about the Half Smile Meditation here.