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A smile a day keeps the doctor away…

By Shannon Gostelow

Provisional Psychologist

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” Charles Dickens, ‘A Christmas Carol’

I recently returned from a European country full of passionate, expressive but quite serious folk. When I arrived in Sydney I was greeted with a smorgasbord of smiling, happy faces. I realized that I had missed this open form of communication and was quite struck by how freely and frequently Australian people smile and laugh. Go us 🙂

 

Laughter and smiling really is contagious. Think about the last time you saw a baby splutter and laugh at something completely inconsequential…did you smile back? Or what about when jubilant giggles erupted from a 4 year old who was looking up at you gleefully… a smile came didn’t it?

Or that time when a family member was trying really hard to cover their inappropriate laughter at the dinner table and you see it and then you have to stifle your own laughter as well…? Or when you are at a party and everyone gets the giggles because something funny just happened…you join in right? Or when your friend is so happy to see you they grin from ear to ear…and you can’t help but smile back.

Growing up I had a friend who was a silent laugher…during teenage sleep overs the only way my friends and I knew she found something funny was when the queen sized bed we were all tumbled into jiggled from her silent laughing. We’d all finish laughing but then the silently jiggling bed was enough to set us all off again. Happy times.

This reciprocal smiling and laughing is actually the domain of the mirror neurons in our brain. Essentially, mirror neurons respond to what we see others doing by producing a neural response that actually allows us to imitate what we see or have a similar experience to what we are seeing. Our mirror neurons simulate the emotions and intentions of other people which, in turn, can help us to understand ourselves and others better.

Did you know…

–       the ability to smile is innate. Babies born with a vision impairment smile instinctively at the sound and touch of a caregiver. Generally babies consciously smile around 4-6 weeks old.

–       laughter, if it is of prolonged intensity, has a similar effect on the body as mild exercise.

–       psychological research has found that smiling makes you seem more trustworthy.

–       one study recently found that experiencing something humorous which led to smiling and laughing increased sort term memory capacity for older adults (65 years).

–       a true or Duchenne smile activates the eye muscles as well as those around the mouth. This well researched phenomenon gives credence to the colloquial ‘smiling eyes’ concept.

Having said that though, even if we are ‘faking’ our smiles sometimes, this can still be effective because its been shown that the mechanical action of a smile can improve our mood.  Our brain begins to shift our mood to align with the facial expression we are communicating. However, a true sincere smile with the eyes and mouth does give the best physiological and psychological effect.

Beyond polite social convention and genuine expressions of happiness, we also smile when things are humorous to us. Humour itself can be a wonderful mood shifter.

And life can be so funny! Amusing, humorous things are everywhere if you choose to see or hear them…;) I’m sure you have your own …but just for fun… here are a few ‘random life funnies’ I have discovered…

Couldn’t believe nobody else had noticed this…;)

In an Australian fruit market…

Amusing typo about operating a fire extinguisher…see if you can find it…

And last but not least…unintentional irony…

Sometimes I wonder about the traffic person who put that sign up…do you think they noticed how supremely amusing it was? It would have made my day:)

It is clear that there are substantial health benefits to smiling and laughing so if you just had an experience of smiling then you are healthier now than you were one minute ago…Your welcome;)

May I encourage you to let yourself laugh and smile often and spontaneouslyJ It is a freely accessible psychological medicine for the brain and heart.

So…keep smiling

References

Bains, G. S., Berk, L. S., Daher, N., Lohman, E., Schwab, E., Petrofsky, J., &         Deshpande, P. (2014). The effect of humor on short-term memory in older adults: a new component for whole-person wellness. Advances in Mind Body Medicine, 28(2), 16-24.

Bennett, M. P., & Lengacher, C. (2008). Humor and Laughter May Influence Health: III. Laughter and Health Outcomes. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 5(1), 37–40. doi:10.1093/ecam/nem041.

Ekman, P., Davidson, R. J., & Friesen, W. V. (1990). The Duchenne smile: Emotional expression and brain physiology II. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, doi: org/10.1037/0022-3514.58.2.342.

Krumhuber, E., Manstead, A. S. R., Cosker, D., Marshall, D., Rosin, P.L., & Kappas, A. (2007). Facial Dynamics as Indicators of Trustworthiness and Cooperative Behavior, Emotion 7(4), doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.7.4.730.

Schmidt, K., Levenstein, R., & Ambadar, Z. (2012). Intensity of smiling and                   attractiveness as facial signals of trustworthiness in women. Perceptual and Motor Skill, 114(3), doi: 10.2466/07.09.21.PMS.114.3.964-978.

Shannon Gostelow
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