A smile or laughter usually occurs when we are happy or witnessing something funny. A smile is also associated with an involuntary response to things that bring joy or laughter. But do you know a smile can also help lessen the pressure during difficult times?
Numerous studies described that a positive attitude can help us cope with stressful events. Positive thinking creates a sense of optimism which becomes a key part of effective stress management. Effective stress management is associated with health benefits such as increased life span, lower rates of depression, lower levels of distress, better psychological and physical well-being, and many more.
While positive energy helps burn the negativity, adding it with a smile can create a better outcome. A collaboration between positive thinking and a smile is a good idea to improve our wellbeing. The question is: Does smiling alone help lighten our bad mood? If yes, how does it do so and will it affect the decision making result?
On Inhibiting and Facilitating Conditions of The Human Smile, it is found that smiling might actually be able to put us in a happier and more joyful mood. The researchers used a clever procedure to make people smile without them being aware of it and measure the effects on them. Participants were made to hold a pen with their lips, which prevents them from smiling. And others were asked to hold with teeth which encourages them to smile. Then the researchers asked these participants to read cartoons while holding the pen, those who held the pen in their teeth found the cartoon funnier – and they were seen to have increased mood.
Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson also mentioned that a smile does not only change mood but also helps undo the effects of negative emotions – because smiling is one aspect of positive emotion. In her study, Fredrickson asked her participants to watch a sad video, a task that causes stress and an increase in cardiovascular activity. She also videotaped her participants to see who smiled during watching the video. More than two-thirds of her participants smiled at least once. Those who smiled had their cardiovascular system go back to baseline faster than those who did not smile from watching such a stressful movie. However, the study emphasised that it does not calculate whether smiling caused people to recover from stress faster or not.
*cardiovascular conveys blood through vessels to and from all parts of the body, carrying nutrients and oxygen, as well as removing carbon dioxide and other wastes.
Other psychologists Tara Kraft and Sara Pressman conducted the same study on the effect of smiling during difficult times with the same but modified techniques as holding a pen with teeth and lips. Their findings showed that participants who smiled had lower heart rates when recovering from stressful tasks. Smiling can impact our stress levels so if we smile, we might recover from stressful events faster.
Timothy Campellone and Ann Kring observed the effect of facial emotion and behaviour on decision making. They asked participants to play the Trust Game and assigned them two different phases: “Behaviour First” and “Face First”.
When might a smile influence decision making? Campellone and Kring found that the addition of a smiling face to an already trustworthy player contributed to greater investment compared to when that same player was identified by behaviour only. A smiling player with an established pattern of trustworthy behaviour was trusted more than a smiling player with no behavioural history. In concussion, smiling displays only made independent contributions to decision making when on the face of a player with an established history of trustworthy behaviour.
On the other hand, facial displays of anger, but not happiness, influence decisions of trust during initial interactions with a person. With repeated interactions, decision making is continually updated to reflect changes in a social partner’s pattern behaviour. Finally, emotions alone can make independent contributions to decision making, strengthening choices of whether to trust.
If smiling has all the benefits, could you fake a smile till you make it through the bad situations? Forming a fake smile to yourself when you are in a pile of a difficult project might actually help you cope with the stress. A smile can also help form positive projections of negative events. It is good for short, unavoidable stressors. Thus, next time you are getting a flu shot or your idea is being rejected by your boss, try smiling and see the benefit of it yourself. If you notice a difference, share this article and let others know the benefit!