Have you ever been told to 'grin and bear it'?

Is there any truth to this piece of advice? Feeling good usually makes us smile, but does it work the other way around - can smiling actually make us feel better?

In a study forthcoming in Psychological Science, scientists from the University of Kansas investigate the potential benefits of smiling by looking at how different types of smiling (and the awareness of smiling) affects individuals’ ability to relieve stress.

smiling stress relief

Smile! It's good for your health claim scientists

“Age old adages, such as ‘grin and bear it’ have suggested smiling to be not only an important nonverbal indicator of happiness but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life’s stressful events,” study author Tara Kraft said in a statement.

“We wanted to examine whether these adages had scientific merit; whether smiling could have real health-relevant benefits.”

Smiles are generally divided into two categories: standard smiles, which use the muscles surrounding the mouth, and genuine, (or Duchenne smiles), which engage the muscles surrounding both the mouth and eyes.

Previous research shows that positive emotions can help during times of stress and that smiling can affect emotion; however, this is first of its kind to experimentally manipulate the types of smiles people make in order to examine the effects of smiling on stress.

Find out what other ways you can feel good - the natural way...

  • Natural Ways To Boost Your Happiness Levels

  • Have A Laugh

    "Laughter is the best medicine. Be around people who are uplifting and make you laugh. Life can get so serious sometimes, and we get bogged down with the small stuff. Just by laughing with your friends, you get some perspective and everything seems to be better."

  • Go For A Long Walk

    "Take a long stroll in the countryside or the woods. This kills two birds with one stone. Not only are you getting some exercise which releases endorphins into the brain, but also trees hold a very strong healing energy. Just being around them will make you feel lighter, and full of energy. Try it!"

  • Meditate

    "Meditation has been proven time and time again that just by 'being' with your body, wellbeing is increased, and you start to feel better about yourself. Just start by concentrating on your breathing for 10 minutes a day and you will see the difference."

  • Visualise

    "A very clever trick that I use when I want to feel good, is visualisation. Think of all the things that you love. Family, friends, the perfect house or car, a dream holiday, or a partner. Just buy imagining them in your minds eye will bring a smile to your face. You can try my meditation and visualisation workshops if you need a helping hand."

  • Tune Into 'Happy' Music

    "Listen to some 'happy' music and dance around your living room to your favourite song and 'let go.' Don't worry about looking silly, or not being in time.. just go wild. There is something really liberating about just going for it without worrying what anyone else thinks. Have fun. Be silly. You will feel great and the best part about it, it that its available to you whenever you want."

The researchers recruited 169 participants from a Midwestern university. The study involved two phases: training and testing.

During the training phase, participants were divided into three groups, and each group was trained to hold a different facial expression.

Participants were instructed to hold chopsticks in their mouths in such a way that they engaged facial muscles used to create a neutral facial expression, a standard smile, or a Duchenne smile.

Chopsticks were essential to the task because they forced people to smile without them being aware that they were doing so: only half of the group members were actually instructed to smile.

For the testing phase, participants were asked to work on multitasking activities. What the participants didn’t know was that the multitasking activities were designed to be stressful.

During both of the stressful tasks, participants held the chopsticks in their mouth. The researchers measured participants’ heart rates and self-reported stress levels throughout the testing phase.

The results of the study suggest that smiling may actually influence our physical state: compared to participants who held neutral facial expressions, participants who were instructed to smile, and in particular those with Duchenne smiles, had lower heart rate levels after recovery from the stressful activities.

ALSO READ: Smiling 'Makes Women Look Three Years Younger'

The participants who held chopsticks in a manner that forced them to smile, but were not explicitly told to smile as part of the training, also reported a smaller decrease in positive affect compared to those who held neutral facial expressions.

These findings show that smiling during brief stressors can help to reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy.

“The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress,” says co-author Sarah Pressman, “you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment. Not only will it help you ‘grin and bear it’ psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well!”

Little can compare to the feeling of a deep, heartfelt laughing fit, so find out how being chirpy and full of laughter can enhance your health and well being (and even your love life)

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  • Boosts Immune System

    Laughter not only makes you feel good, but it helps boost your immune system too. The Department of Clinical Immunology at <a href="http://www.llu.edu/medicine/index.page" target="_hplink">Loma Linda University School of Medicine</a>, found that laughter decreases serum cortisol levels (stress chemicals), increases T lymphocytes (white blood cells that play a key role in immunity), and increases the number of natural killer cells. These results suggest that laughter stimulates the immune system and ultimately makes you healthier.

  • Increases Attractiveness

    A study by a Canadian University found that laughter makes you more attractive to the opposite sex. The study found that smiley people seem more approachable, plus when you laugh, your blood supply increases, causing a rosy glow to the skin, making it appear more youthful and appealing to look at.

  • Provides Pain Relief

    Researchers at <a href="http://www.ox.ac.uk/" target="_hplink">Oxford University</a> found that laughter can act as an effective pain reliever. Laughter release the feel-good chemical endorphin and it acted like pain relief to the participants. The study also found that chuckling helped increased pain threshold.

  • Helps Keep Heart Healthy

    According to a recent study by cardiologists at the <a href="http://www.umm.edu/" target="_hplink">University of Maryland Medical Center</a> in Baltimore, laughter, along with an active sense of humor, could help protect you against a heart attack. The study found that people with heart disease were 40% less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease. Another study by Dr. William Fry, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at <a href="http://www.stanford.edu/" target="_hplink">Stanford University</a>, compared laughter to "inner jogging," and claimed that laughing 100 times a day is the equivalent of 10 minutes of rowing. The study also found that laughter increases the heart rate, improves blood circulation, and works muscles all over the body.

  • Keeps You Fit

    A study by<a href="http://www.llu.edu/" target="_hplink"> Loma Linda University</a>found that ''mirthful laughter'' reduces the stress hormones cortisol and catecholamines, much the same way that moderate physical exercise does. They also found that a good belly laugh positively effected two hormones that regulate appetite, leptin and ghrelin, meaning it could also help decrease appetite.