The science of smiling

15 Oct 2020 | 3 mins

They say ‘a smile is happiness you find right under your nose’ and there’s no denying when we smile, we elevate our mood and the mood of those around us. In challenging times like these, the act of smiling can be a conscious choice to stay positive and motivated. As Mother Teresa once said, “we shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”

While we’re born with the ability to smile, studies show that as we age, we smile less often. But smiling and laughter have numerous health benefits, including reducing blood pressure and pain, decreasing depression, boosting the immune system and staying young. A simple smile can release those all-important endorphins that result in a feeling of wellbeing.

Dr Lynden Miles from UWA’s School of Psychological Sciences has investigated the science behind a smile, and notes that while we can smile to hide feelings of frustration and embarrassment, smiles are universally recognised as expressions of joy and happiness. “When we see someone smiling, it can put us at ease and often leads to increased liking and trusting of that person,” Dr Miles says.

If this feel-good gesture not only reinforces our own joy but positively affects those around us, it’s no surprise to find that smiling has been linked to improved wellbeing in the elderly and, in particular, the quality of life of patients with dementia.

Associate Professor Christopher Etherton-Beer, from the Western Australian Centre for Health and Ageing, agrees: “Smiling and humour are such important parts of helping people with dementia, their loved ones, and their carers, to enjoy their best lives.”

“People’s sense of humour can change during their dementia journey…but even people with quite severe impairments often have surprisingly strong retained strengths, including their ability to enjoy humorous conversations.”

Associate Professor Christopher Etherton-Beer

So, while our world has turned upside down, it appears there’s actually a lot to smile about. So next time you walk down the corridors of UWA or through our magnificent gardens, do yourself and the world a favour…and smile!

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