The Science of Smiling

I love laughing.  I love laughing so hard that I have to catch my breath, or so hard I snort and make myself laugh even harder.  Laughing is healthy, it relieves stress, and it’s good for your soul and your brain.

Science has shown that the mere act of smiling can lift your mood, lower stress, boost your immune system and possibly even prolong your life.  A genuine smile (one that involves facial muscles around the eyes) sparks a change in brain activity related to a good mood. Smiling cools your brain, causing your heart rate to decrease, and calms your nervous system. A smile generates the same brain activity as eating 2,000 chocolate bars!

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Having a sense of humor isn’t a nicety, it’s a necessity.

After having surgery in 2014 to remove a tumor from my salivary gland, the right side of my face became paralyzed.  I couldn’t close my eye, my face sagged, and my mouth drooped, making it impossible for me to smile. I begged God to just let me smile again and promised I would never take it for granted.  

Then life happens.  You get busy, stressed, and it is so easy to take the small things – like the ability to smile – for granted.  In a day and age where we have more to do than time to do it, lots of stress, and competing priorities, having a sense of humor isn’t a nicety, it’s a necessity.  

You may cry until you start laughing, but a sense of humor is so important when overcoming adversity and trying to bounce back.  Here’s how you can leverage laughter to build resilience:

1. Laugh at yourself.
We enjoy being around people we can relate to, and most people can relate to getting embarrassed, doing or saying something wrong, or being klutzy. A little self-deprecating humor goes a long way. Rather than try to play it cool when a “not-so-cool” thing happens, laugh at yourself. Don’t be afraid to be authentic. It will make people want to connect with you.

2. Spend time with people who make you laugh.
Surround yourself with people that lift you up, laugh with you, and laugh at you. If I’m having a bad day, I can count on one of my girlfriends to do or say something to make me laugh. When we’re down, our tendency is to isolate. Fight the urge because social connection and laughter can calm your nervous system and actually help you build resilience.

3. Smile…even if you don’t feel like it.
If I have a bad morning, I make up my mind that regardless of what happens for the rest of the day, I will find reasons to smile (and I do). Even a fake smile can trick your brain into a good mood. This doesn’t mean you ignore difficult or uncomfortable feelings. You process them and then find ways to smile. There are plenty more studies out there to make you smile (or at least, serve as a reference for why you should).

4. Look for humor.
I look for humor wherever I can find it.  A few weeks ago, while waiting for a delayed flight, I decided to have a seat at the bar and get a bit of work done. Before I ever had anything to drink, I clumsily fell off the bar stool. This gave everyone, including myself, a good chuckle. I started out frustrated that my flight was delayed. I left with some new friends and a better understanding of gravity.  Life is too short not to laugh.

Whether you find your laughter through being around friends, going to a comedy show, watching funny movies, or just being goofy, don’t underestimate the power of a belly laugh and a sense of humor. And if you want to see how good laughter feels, check this out.


P.S. – Now this is not a laughing matter.  Please don’t forget that April is World Autism Month.  As a strong and vocal supporter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a portion of all my book proceeds are donated to NAMI Central Texas.

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