Study Shows That Even a Posed Smile Uplifts

Your smile is powerful!

A young woman smiles as she poses for a selfie.

(goodluz /

If you want to get an instant rush of happiness, smile! Yes, feeling happy can be achieved with a few small facial movements. All it takes is moving a few muscles in the corners of your mouth, lifting your cheeks, and wrinkling your eyes to produce happiness!

A study published in October, 2022 in nature human behaviour, suggests that smiling increases happiness. The international study was organized and led by Nicholas Coles, a Stanford research scientist, according to Stanford News. It addresses a debate in the world of psychology about the facial feedback hypothesis, which purports that facial expressions influence feelings. 

International smiling test
Previous studies were inconclusive, so Coles decided to take on the smile test once and for all. He gathered a team of psychologists from around the world and organized the Many Smiles Collaboration. Together, researchers developed a methodology to test the smiling mind-body connection using 3,878 participants from 19 countries.

They compared feelings of happiness in several ways: they had participants use a pen-in-the-mouth smiling method (that was part of an influential study in the 1980s); copy images of actors smiling; and simply move facial muscles to form a smile. They compared people while they were doing these actions in front of a blank screen and while they viewed happy images.

This technique saw an increase in happiness in all groups except for the pen-in-mouth participants. The pen-in-mouth action can now be considered more like teeth clenching than a genuine smile, showing to be unreliable. This now moves the psychologists a step forward in their pursuit of understanding emotions.  

“We experience emotion so often that we forget to marvel at just how incredible this ability is,” Coles told Stanford News. “But without emotion, there’s no pain or pleasure, no suffering or bliss, and no tragedy and glory in the human condition,” he said.

Smiling helps to manage stress
Scientists are not exactly sure how moving muscles influences emotion, but the study suggests that facial expressions offer sensorimotor feedback that affects emotion. This strengthens the use of facial feedback interventions so therapists can work on reducing depression, managing stress, and improving mental health by having clients smile more.

“Some people believe that emotional experience is very cognitive – that’s it’s solely driven by our evaluations of what’s going on in the world. This work, however, suggests that it’s also physiological,” Coles told The Guardian.

This study’s conclusion settles a debate that is nearly 100 years old. Moving forward, this may prove to be far-reaching in the field of psychology, according to The Guardian. Try it out now and simply smile!

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