Humans smile for numerous reasons. Did you know that you have as many as 19 distinct smile types that allow you to express a wide range of simple and complex emotions? In addition to expressing happiness and contentment, your smile can also represent anything from surprise, embarrassment, attentiveness, and…mischief!
How, when, and why you smile is further influenced by your cultural heritage and by the various social situations in which you find yourself. You might offer a polite, close-lipped smile when making an acquaintance, or you could sport a full-face grin when bumping into an old friend.
Warm emotions (and the smiles that go with them) are generally elevated throughout the Christmas season. But, for many of us, the demands of the holiday season can cause increased stress and tension. And, for those of us experiencing hard times, loss, or loneliness, the holiday season can even further magnify difficult emotions and feelings of sadness.
As the unique joy and stresses of the Christmas season go into full swing, your smile will be an asset that can bolster your well-being and one that can positively impact those around you. Here are three powerful reasons to share your smile all throughout the holidays and beyond!
1. Smiling puts you in a merrier mood.
Smiling is a natural response to feeling happy and relaxed. And, as it turns out, consciously choosing to smile like you’re happy and relaxed—even if you’re not—convinces your brain to feel the same. The act of smiling triggers your brain to release your body’s built-in, feel-good chemicals—serotonin and dopamine.
Serotonin, often called the “happy chemical,” is a hormone and a neurotransmitter. Carrying signals along and between your nerve cells, serotonin is a key player in some of your most vital bodily functions. In addition to assisting your digestion and your blood clotting capabilities, serotonin plays a major role in both mood regulation and balance. The release of serotonin like you get from smiling is associated with reduced feelings of stress and with elevated feelings of happiness and well-being.
Similarly, dopamine carries signals between nerve cells and profoundly influences your body and your brain. Dopamine facilitates movement and speech, regulates appetite, and helps to manage your circulation and energy. An integral component of your reward and reinforcement system, dopamine also contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.
Practice Tip—Fake it ‘Til You Make it
If the Christmas season doesn’t have you smiling, there’s good news yet. You can give yourself a head start by simply faking it.
Communication between your brain and your facial muscles is a two-way street. Your mood can alter your facial expression, and your facial expression can alter your mood. Even faking a smile has been shown to reduce signs of stress, to lower heart rate, to improve mood, and to allow you to recall joyful memories.
So, while flashing a grin won’t magically erase your holiday to-do list or reduce long lines and heavy traffic, it can give you the boost you need to keep calm, to carry on, and to attend to your tasks and needs with increased positivity and focus.
2. Smiling spreads good cheer.
Nonverbal communication, such as posture and gestures, profoundly impact your social interactions. Though mostly subconscious, nonverbal communication allows you to express and detect what may go unspoken, like underlying intentions and emotions. In fact, nonverbal communication (such as facial expressions) is also contagious.
To help us understand what others are feeling, we’re naturally inclined to copy each other’s facial expressions (formally known as sensorimotor simulation). In addition to reading social and contextual clues, mirroring the facial expressions of others allows us to feel and to interpret their emotional experience. When you share a kind smile with someone, you encourage them to kindly smile back. That makes two of you experiencing the uplifting, stress-reducing benefits that smiling creates.
Practice Tip—Start By Looking in the Mirror
Kick-off your day by kindly smiling at yourself in the mirror. In addition to the grin you might get from feeling a little cheesy, seeing your own smile can put you at ease, can lift your spirits, and can get you ready to share your smile throughout the day.
3. Smiling generates kindness.
Random acts of kindness—like smiling at a stranger—can uplift both of your days. Many people experience amplified difficulty due to stress, grief, sadness, and loneliness during the Christmas season. A kind smile is a free, simple, and effective gesture that allows you to show someone that you see them and to let them know you care.
Kindness even has an impact on those who witness it. Witnessing kindness improves mood, lowers blood pressure, boosts self-esteem, and inspires us to seek opportunities to be kind to others. Sharing a kind smile with a stranger or a colleague has the power to positively impact everyone around you!
Giving kindness lifts you up, too. Like smiling, kindness lowers stress, boosts energy and mood, releases serotonin, and makes you feel happy and rewarded. What’s better still? Smiling and kindness elevate your overall health and can even lengthen your lifespan.
Giving, receiving, and witnessing kindness can all enhance the release of oxytocin—a hormone and neurotransmitter that inspires feelings often associated with Christmas itself, including connection, gratitude, and generosity.
Practice Tip—Give for the Sake of Giving
Though you know by now that smiling at someone can cause them to smile back, don’t get discouraged if giving a smile doesn’t always get you one in return. Kindness is magical because it gives for the sake of giving. Without asking for anything in return, kindness unites us all in our shared humanity.
Your smile is worth sharing, and at Great Miami Dental, we are honored to care for your smile all year long! And, from Dr. Lang and all of us to yours, we wish you joy, love, and laughter this Christmas and beyond.