Smiling Really Can Make You Feel Happier, Says (Some Of) The Science

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Having a low day? Smiling could actually help boost your mood, new research suggests โ€“ while scowling could make you feel worse.

Scientists have long debated whether facial expressions can lead people to feeling the emotions related to those expressions, and now a team of researchers has analysed all the evidence available on the topic, taking in nearly 50 years of data. Thatโ€™s a lot of smiling in the name of science.

โ€œConventional wisdom tells us that we can feel a little happier if we simply smile. Or that we can get ourselves in a more serious mood if we scowl,โ€ said Nicholas Coles, lead researcher on the paper. โ€œBut psychologists have actually disagreed about this idea for over 100 years.โ€

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Those disagreements became more pronounced in 2016, when 17 teams of researchers failed to replicate a well-known experiment demonstrating that the physical act of smiling can make people feel happier.

โ€œSome studies have not found evidence that facial expressions can influence emotional feelings,โ€ Coles said.

โ€œBut we canโ€™t focus on the results of any one study. Psychologists have been testing this idea since the early 1970s, so we wanted to look at all the evidence.โ€

Using a statistical technique called meta-analysis, Coles and his team combined data from 138 studies testing more than 11,000 participants from all around the world.

According to the results, facial expressions do have a small impact on feelings โ€“smiling makes people feel happier, scowling makes them feel angrier, and frowning makes them feel sadder.

โ€œWe donโ€™t think that people can smile their way to happiness,โ€ Coles said. โ€œBut these findings are exciting because they provide a clue about how the mind and the body interact to shape our conscious experience of emotion.

โ€œWe still have a lot to learn about these facial feedback effects, but this meta-analysis put us a little closer to understanding how emotions work.โ€

The research was coauthored by researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Texas A&M and published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

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