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Published June 05, 2013, 11:30 PM

Positively Beautiful: Smiles, the face of positive emotion

A smile can be your very best accessory. Plus, it can immediately boost your mood. As the Rev. Doug Horton said, “Smile, it’s free therapy.”

By: Susan Mathison, INFORUM

“I’ve never seen a smiling face that was not beautiful.”

– Author Unknown

A smile can be your very best accessory. Plus, it can immediately boost your mood. As the Rev. Doug Horton said, “Smile, it’s free therapy.”

There is actually science behind this. The physical action of using the facial muscles involved in a smile sets off a neurochemical reaction that improves mood.

Smiling has actually been used successfully as part of a program to treat depression, requiring participants to smile at themselves in the mirror several times a day. The suggestion to fake a smile is a good one, though, because the more you fake the smile, the more real the smile will become.

Smiling will automatically attract people to you and will almost always elicit an automatic response of a returned smile, triggering those same positive emotions.

Mother Teresa knew of the importance of a smile, stating, “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”

It really is a great feeling to flash a broad smile and enjoy the response, knowing that you may have made someone’s day!

When shown pictures of smiling faces, babies as young as a few weeks would smile back, become calmer and more attentive than they did when shown pictures of neutral faces or scowls. We are born to appreciate smiles and positive expressions.

Mood and smiling go hand in hand. Psychology researchers have studied this “facial feedback” hypothesis. Douglas Bernstein’s study states “involuntary facial movements provide sufficient peripheral information to drive emotional experience.”

Stephen Davis and Joseph Palladino explain that “feedback from facial expression affects emotional expression and behavior.” In simple terms, you may actually be able to improve your mood by simply smiling.

Smiling is almost as basic as breathing, but I need to remind myself to do it more often.

Some suggestions sure to make you smile:

  • Make goofy faces at yourself in the mirror.

  • Do something child-like: watch cartoons or go to the playground.

  • Leaf through your baby pictures or a family photo album.

  • Smile and make eye contact with each co-worker you meet in the hallway.

  • Walk barefoot in the grass in the early spring.

  • Pick up a puppy or kitten and peer into its face.

  • Go feed the ducks and watch them walk. If you can watch a duck walk on dry land and not smile, check your pulse.

  • Do something nice and completely unexpected for a total stranger.

  • Splash in a puddle after the rain.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at shesays@forumcomm.com.