Which Comes First, the Smile or the Happiness?

Research from the University of Kansas suggests that the act of smiling can make a person feel better and have health benefits.  Certainly feeling good can lead to smiling, but psychological researchers Sarah Pressman and Tara Kraft of KU, say the inverse may also be true.

They conducted an experiment where students 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 an exaggerated 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.

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 the exaggerated smiles, had lower heart rate levels after recovery from the stressful activities. 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.

Read more about the research.

The study supports a positive-feedback loop where smiling can make us feel better and thus we likely will smile more.  It also touches on several Emotional Intelligence concepts including Optimism and Stress Management.  Click here to learn how EQ can improve individual and organizational productivity.