Smiling – the cheapest medicine on earth

People often say to me: “You’re always smiling.” I love this compliment, even if they say it with a perplexed look.

Maybe that’s because it might seem like I don’t have much to smile about. There are serious health problems in my family and someone I care about a lot is suffering pain from a very nasty cancer. But when it seems there’s nothing you can do, a smile can be very powerful stuff. Science says so and I know so.

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Smiling began as a conscious decision. When I was a kid, I noticed old ladies (probably younger than I am now!) often had hard, grim faces. I was determined never to become like that. If my Nana caught me looking grumpy, she would say “If the wind changes, you’ll stay like that.” So I decided the only solution was to smile like crazy as often as I could. And I’ve been doing it ever since.

It became a habit of the very best kind. It made me feel good. And I know it made other people feel good because their faces would light up as they smiled back. Then I would feel good all over again. A guaranteed 200% return on your investment! Double bonus because smiling and laughter like to hang around together.

As I got older, I discovered this phenomenon had a scientific basis. It was a feedback loop. It was social, creating feelings of co-operation friendliness , helpfulness and trust. And it was biological. Smiling has hormonal and physiological consequences which make us feel better and want to smile more. Smiling self medicates and heals. (Psychology Today) Who wouldn’t want to reap those benefits?

Decades ago, on a day tour in New Orleans, the tour guide said: “Don’t look anyone in the eye. Don’t smile at anyone.” I found that extremely hard and it didn’t help at all. I still managed to get separated and conned by a group of teenagers. I paid $20 for the trick I didn’t asked to see because it seemed the smartest option. I smiled, they smiled. We laughed. We talked and they recommended some places to see in New Orleans. So I’m still convinced smiling is the best option.

A quick google will turn up pages of posts about the benefits of smiling, but I’m not going to go there. If you want to hear about the research, try this TED talk on The Power of Smiling.

I think smiling research is best done by having a go. Smile every day, at everyone and see what happens.

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