Real or fake, how the right smiling technique can improve your overall health and wellbeing, lowering stress, blood pressure and helping you live a longer happier life.

Smile though your heart is aching,
Smile even though it’s breaking,
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by…

Just like the lyrics by Charlie Chaplin, sometimes you may have to fake it to make it.

When we feel great inside, it’s generally easy to smile, an outward sign to the world of our joy, happiness, appreciation, amusement, excitement, or contentment. Smiling is contagious, when we see someone else smile, it stimulates our mirror neurons. Mirror neurons allow us to sense the emotions of others and then reproduces that same chemistry in our brain. Our brain’s neurons will start firing in the same manner as what we are observing. This is why we always feel uplifted when we are around happy people and feel pulled down by negative people. On a recent bus trip into Brighton with my eight year old son and his friend, they started playing the sweet or sour game, where they smiled and waved to passers by. If they scored a smile, they got a point. (That’s sweet.) If they were ignored, or frowned, they did’nt (Sour.) At the end of the bus trip, whoever had the most points won, interestingly it was a draw! It was an excellent demonstration of mirror neurons in action. Who could resist smiling back at two cute and smiley eight year olds.

Smiling has enormous benefits on the inside too, to both our physical and mental health as neurotransmitters are released when you smile in the right way. Yes, there is particular technique and it’s called using the Duchene Smile (named after French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne who studied the physiology of facial expressions in the mid-19th century), often described as “smizing”, as in “smiling with the eyes” (image B Below). The primary muscle involved in every type of smiling is the one that pulls up the corners of the mouth — the zygomatic major muscle.

The Pan Am smile, also known as the “Botox smile”, in which only the zygomatic major muscle is voluntarily contracted to show politeness, this however does not activate that release of neurotransmitters that make us feel good, (image A below)

To get the full benefit, a Duchenne smile calls on certain other muscles — namely those at the top of the cheeks and around the eyes, the orbicularis oculi. The orbicularis oculi are the muscles that pull your eyes into a squint, making for wrinkles at the bridge of the nose and around the eyes’ outside edges. So even when we may feel that we have nothing worth smiling about it, we can try faking it and still get the benefits.

So how does it work? When we smile either real or fake with a “Duchene Smile” it sends a message to our brain, which activates the release of feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. This not only makes us feel good, relaxes our body, but it can lower our heart rate and blood pressure.

When we are faced with a threat, perceived or real, several things happen to our bodies as our brain triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived or real dangers. Our pulse rate shoots up, our digestive system shuts down, and our blood sugar levels increase. As our breathing becomes shallower and faster and facial expressions kick in, we have the ability to take control and slow down or halt our stress response. We can slow our breathing down and change our expression into a nice Duchene Smile triggering our brains into releasing our feel good hormones.

So, set yourself a challenge and see how many people you can make smile today. It may help to set yourself a reminder, put a smiley post-it near your phone and every time you make or receive a call you will be reminded to smile or go one better and draw a smiley face on your hand as a reminder. It will soon become a natural habit and add joy to your days and years to your life!