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How fake smiles make you feel better

We all know genuine smiles can go a long way. As it turns out, so can fake smiles.

A 2012 study called Grin and Bear it: the influence of manipulated facial expression on the stress response found “physiological and psychological benefits from maintaining positive facial expressions during stress.”

Those benefits include a lift in your mood, a lowering of your stress and a boost to your immune system.

The physical act of smiling, genuine or otherwise, causes a release of dopamine and serotonin into the brain. The former increases feelings of happiness, while the latter has been associated with reduced stress.

As for a fake smile’s effect on your immune system, that’s an interesting one.

Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of how the brain is connected to the immune system. Evidence in that field clearly indicates that depression weakens your immune system, while happiness boosts it.

And Dr. Murray Grossan, an ENT-otolaryngologist in Los Angeles found that fake smiles can lead to the same results.

“What’s crazy is that just the physical act of smiling can make a difference in building your immunity,” says Dr. Grossan. “When you smile, the brain sees the muscle [activity] and assumes that humour is happening.” In other words, your immune system is a body reader, not a mind reader. It won’t question why you’re smiling.

How to effectively make fake smiles

A lot of advice in this field centres around thinking about the people in your life who make you happy. That’s one way of getting there, but it’s tough to do when things aren’t going well. Far too often, the positive thoughts are immediately followed by feelings of guilt or shame or anger or longing. And then those thoughts kill your smile.

So here’s an alternative. Forget about the people or the things. Think of a time you had a genuine belly laugh. Think about what made you laugh and how you laughed. And think about how hard you laughed (‘cause you probably remember). That image of you laughing will put a smile on your face and keep it there.

We took an informal survey around the office about belly laugh moments. One that stuck out to us was the first time we saw “There’s Something About Mary.” That got us thinking about our favourite scenes from the movie, like this one we can’t stop watching now.

If you really can’t think of anything to smile about….

Then get your smiling in while you’re brushing your teeth. You’re basically smiling already when you’re scrubbing your front teeth.