Saturday, November 29, 2014

In Support of Smiling



SMILE

Each time you smile it activates health and happiness in your brain and those around you.

Smiling releases neuropeptides that help reduce feelings associated with stress. Neuropeptides are molecules that facilitate communication to the whole body when we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, excited. The feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when you smile. This not only relaxes your body, but it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

These endorphins also act as a natural pain reliever without the potential negative side effects of synthetic analgesics.

The serotonin release brought on by your smile also serves as an anti-depressant and mood lifter. Many pharmaceutical anti-depressants work by increasing the levels of serotonin in your brain; but with a smile, you don’t have to worry about side effects, dependencies or addictions (and you don’t need a prescription from your doctor).

As an actor, I learned that I could affect my mood by using my body. I can put my body into a slouching position and mechanically draw the outside edges of my mouth downward and furrow my brow. All of these physicalities mimic being sad, and the physicality sends the message to the brain, which follows suit and eventually, I become sad. I can achieve the same effect with anger, fear, sleepiness or nausea. And, fortunately, I can also do it with love and joy. This is why, so often when actors play love interests for any length of time, they often find themselves with real-life feelings of love toward each other. 


You’re actually better looking when you smile. You’re viewed as attractive, reliable, relaxed and sincere. People treat smiling people differently. According to a study published in the journal “Neuropsychologia”, seeing a smiling face activates the region in your brain that processes sensory rewards. In other words, when you view a person smiling, you actually feel rewarded, and vice-versa, when someone views you smiling, you have given them a rewarded feeling in their brain.


Similar to a yawn, your smile is actually contagious. The part of your brain that is responsible for smiling when happy (or mirroring another’s smile) resides in the cingulate cortex, an unconscious automatic response area. In a Swedish study, subjects were shown pictures of several emotions: joy, anger, fear and surprise. The researchers asked the subjects to frown when they saw a picture of someone smiling. Instead, they found that the facial expressions went automatically to an imitation of what subjects saw. They smiled!  And it took conscious effort to turn that smile upside down. This is the working of nerve cells in our body called Mirror Neurons that make us automatically imitate what we see in others. So if you’re smiling at someone, it’s likely they can’t help but smile back. If they don’t, they’re making a conscious effort not to.

So each time you smile at a person, their brain coaxes them to return the favor. You are creating a symbiotic relationship that allows both of you to release feel good chemicals in your brain, activate reward centers, make you both more attractive and increase the chances of you both living longer, healthier lives. So don’t be shy. Go out there and smile generously. And don’t fight that urge to return any smiles you see. It’s natural.

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