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…;)

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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



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.












Worry Free Living – Is it Possible?


Written by Ivette Moutzouris

Probably not, but there are certainly some changes that you can make that can minimize persistent worrying.

At the core of worrying is the idea that I am not in control and therefore am afraid of the unknown. I was talking to a group of young adults recently about the fact that we have an innate desire to be in control. The reality is that we aren’t in control a lot of the time. We just have to watch the news to see that this is true on a global scale and look at our own lives to see that the hurt, disappointments, sadness, stress, anxiety and worry that we experience usually come from events that are out of our control.

Worry Free Living therefore has to begin with an acceptance and acknowledgement of what is the reality….that is that I can’t control everything and can’t predict what my future will hold. Once we get to this place there is a sense of peace as we become more accepting and hopefully learn to enjoy the ride of life with its ups and downs and twists and turns. Equally as important is a clear understanding of the things that I can control…..that is ‘I can control what I will do as a response’, ‘I can make goals’, ‘ I can choose to admit that I am wrong sometimes’, ‘I can choose to say yes or no’, ‘I can choose to try and move forward’, ‘I can choose to focus on my achievements whilst learning from my mistakes’, ‘I can choose to be the best me’, ‘I can choose to accept the things I can’t change’ . Understanding what I can control vs what I can’t is therefore very important and liberating. It helps us to be proactive when it’s needed but also accept the things we can’t change.

Simplify your life. We often try to do too much and sometimes this can contribute to increased levels of stress, anxiety and worry. Reexamine your commitments and what you are actually able to fit into your life. Ask yourself questions such as ‘Am I taking time out to take care of me?’, ‘Am I learning to find pleasure in the things I am committed to?’ or ‘Am I choosing to do too much at the detriment of my health and well- being?’. If the latter is true then it would be helpful to make some changes or to get some help.

Create a Worry and Problem Solving Time. This helps to break the habit of ruminating or persistently worrying about things all day and night. It enables you to create a special time so that you can problem solve and think through the problem clearly. It also helps to free up the rest of day to do things with a more focused approach but knowing you will attend to your problems/worries later. Remember that when you do this try to assess the things you can control vs what you can’t.

Nurture Yourself. This is important because ultimately you live in the ‘here and the now’. It is important to make goals for the future but it is also important to focus on what you are doing now and how you may want things to be different. For example you may realise that you are not taking proper care of yourself and need to make positive health changes in the form of a healthy diet, exercise and better sleep.

We cannot completely escape worrying but we can definitely learn to approach life’s challenges without carrying all the burdens on our shoulders and we can also learn to value and enjoy what we do have.


Forsyth, John., & Eifert, George (2007). The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety. Canada. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Bourne, Edmund., & Garano, Lorna. (2003). Coping With Anxiety. Oakland, C.A. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

The Fun Theory

The Fun Theory

By Gabriel Wong (Clinical Psychologist)

Have you been issued a speeding ticket in the past?  Yes, I have.  Now whenever I drive past that particular street my mind reminds me that I have to slow down and warns me not to speed again, as I don’t want to have another 3 points off my licence.  I was still thinking from a punitive perspective at that point in time.

How about the majority of the drivers who never speed and always obey the speed limit? They have not been rewarded so far.  Have they been rewarded for doing the right thing rather than being punished for doing the wrong thing?  In educational psychology we advocate for a positive reinforcement approach in school.

What do you think if were to reward those drivers who comply with the driving speed on the road?  Is it possible to do that?  Do you have any ideas before you watch this video?

Kevin Richardson (USA) was the award winner of the Fun Theory Award, an initiative of the Volkswagen, who designed the Rewarding Speed Limit Signs.  His idea was to take a portion of the revenue from the speeding fine and use to fund a lottery.  Everyone who complied with the law was automatically entered and in effect, given a free lottery ticket.  This simple idea rewarding good drivers to do the right things, has resulted in 22% decrease in the average speed. When it is fun to do something, it motivates us to do it and we will actually do more.

How can we get people to put on their safety belts in the car, of their own accord, and enjoy it?  Andrés López Rivera in 2009 designed this car seat belt giving people fun and enjoyment while travelling in the car when the seat belt is put on.

Would you like to design a similar set in your car?

We still see children or adults who do not throw their rubbish in the bin or recycle their plastic bottles and glass.  How can we encourage them to change their  behavior and help people change their habit?  How can we make this fun in order to motivate people to develop this habit?  Let us look at the Bottle Bank Arcade Machine and the World’s Deepest bin video from the Fun Theory.com.  Just look at people’s faces and notice how much fun and joy they have exhibited.

When they transformed the bins into something that gave people some fun, they transformed the experience.  As a result, people deposited 230% more trash in the “World’s Deepest Bin” than in a bin nearby.  The Bottle Bank Arcade machine received 50 times more than the traditional machine.

Nowadays people are more dependent on using escalators when they go to work or in shopping centres.  Even when there are stairs available, few choose to use the stairs and prefer using escalators.  How can we motivate people to use the stairs more often?  Look at some ideas from the Fun Theory.com about how they transformed a subway staircase into “Piano Stairs”.

We have noticed that more people are using the “piano stairs” than the escalator after they discovered that walking up or down the staircase is fun to them.  And 60% more people than usual, chose the stairs over the escalators at the end.

Have you even been feeling frustrated that your kids and teenagers are having trouble tidying up their room, leaving their clothes all over the place in their bedroom? Sounds familiar?  Well, this guy, Naoki Yamada helped you solve this problem by simply making it fun for your children to clean their rooms.  Let’s watch this video together and you will be amazed how creative Naoki Yamada was by transforming some tedious tasks into fun.

The Fun Theory initiated by Volkswagen suggested that pleasure is motivating.  If we are more creative, we can transform some unpleasant, boreding, repetitive, mechanical tasks into fun thus reinforcing people to continue to have fun and enjoy it when they do it next time.  The most important point is how can we create the conditions within which people will motivate themselves?


Volkswagen (2009).  The Fun theory.  Retrieved from http://www.thefuntheory.com.