The scientific study of happiness, also known as positive psychology, has given us a lot of useful insights in the last couple of decades.
One of these insights is a study that showed that by doing just one thing, you would make yourself as happy as eating 2,000 bars of chocolate; and, more crucially, make yourself as happy as receiving $25,000.
And what is that thing?
In a study in the U.K. scientists used many stimuli to see how happy they made participants feel. The researchers made participants do, see or hear different stimuli and using electromagnetic brain scans and heart-rate monitors, measured their ‘mood-boosting values.’
Interestingly, smiling trumped all of the other stimuli.
It has long been established that smiling makes you feel good regardless of how you feel in the moment.
In 2009, using fMRI, scientist at Echnische Universität demonstrated that smiling activates your feel-good circuitry.
Additionally smiling has some impressive correlations. For example, it has been associated with longevity. In 2010, Wayne State University researchers observed baseball cards from 1952 and measured the smile span of players. Those who were not smiling lived for an average of 72.9 years. However, the beaming players lived an average of seven years longer.
Similarly, a 30-year longitudinal study from UC Berkeley was able to use smile width from an old yearbook photo as predictor of a number of things: those who smiled had more fulfilling marriages, scored higher on measures of well-being and happiness. Smiles also predicted how inspiring others found them.
Also, research has shown that we look more competent when we smile. Also, we are perceived as more attractive, more likeable and more courteous.
While commenting on this set of studies for Inc.com, Melanie Curtin gave some interesting statistics that are likely to draw your attention to your own smile:
“Want to know where you stack up when it comes to smiling? Know this: under 14% of us smile fewer than 5 times a day (you probably don’t want to be in that group). Over 30% of us smile over 20 times a day. And there’s one population that absolutely dominates in the smile game, clocking in at as many as 400 smiles a day: children.”
So what? What does this mean? If smiling makes us happy, what do we get from being happy? Does happiness even matter?
In another column on the scientific study of happiness entitled “5 studies on happiness and why you should get a pencil“ I said it does.
‘Some years ago,’ I wrote, ‘Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California and colleagues set themselves the daunting task of reviewing hundreds of experiments on the effects of happiness.
‘In his book, “59 Seconds,” Richard Wiseman reported the results of that study:
‘“After trawling the data from hundreds of studies involving more than a quarter of a million participants, Lyubomirsky discovered impressive benefits to being happy. Happiness makes people more sociable and altruistic, it increases how much they like themselves and others, it improves their ability to resolve conflict, and it strengthens their immune systems. The cumulative effect means that people have more satisfying and successful relationships, find more fulfilling careers, and live longer, healthier lives.”’
This is all well and good. But can we actually make ourselves happy? Or are people born happy?
You can answer that question with three percentages: 50%, 10% and 40%.
Again regarding the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky and colleagues, Wiseman wrote in “59 Seconds,”:
“The bad news is that research shows that about 50% of your overall sense of happiness is genetically determined, and so cannot be altered. The better news is that another 10 percent is attributable to general circumstances (educational level, income, whether you are married or single, etc.) that are difficult to change. However, the best news is that the remaining 40 percent is derived from your day-to-day behavior and the way you think about yourself and others. With a little knowledge, you can become substantially happier in just a few seconds.”
A part of that knowledge is that smiling does not only make you happy, but it also makes you like yourself, it makes others like you; it may notch you a fulfilling marriage, a longer life and give people the perception that you’re competent.
But wait, there is more. Let’s give the last word on smiling to a leader whose companions said “whenever we looked at his face, he was smiling.”
And what did that leader say?
“Even a smile is charity,” Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said.
Which means that a smile does not only earn you worldly benefits but will also get you the hereafter.