Aug 29, 2022 - Health

The power of your smile

Illustration of an animated neutral emoji changing into a smiling-with-sunglasses emoji.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

One of your most powerful tools — to improve health, bolster relationships and just feel better — is your smile. It's that simple.

  • Why it matters: Americans tend to smile more and wider than folks in other countries, research shows. Those megawatt grins are actually good for our mental and physical health.

Zoom in: The science-backed benefits of smiling include stress relief, pain relief and strengthened relationships.

1. Smile the pain away: Research has shown that smiling during running can make you more efficient and make the run feel more manageable. Our smiles send cues to our brains that we're okay.

  • And one study found that smiling during a shot can lessen the perceived pain of the needle.

2. De-stress: When you smile in a tense situation, your body has a real, physical response, researchers at the University of Kansas found. Your heart rate slows down, and your stress starts to melt away — even if you're not actually feeling smiley. Basically, fake it till you make it.

3. Look your best: It's a fact — we find people more attractive when they smile.

4. Make a friend: One of the reasons Americans smile so much is our nation's diversity. "It turns out that countries with lots of immigration have historically relied more on nonverbal communication. Thus, people there might smile more," Olga Khazan writes in The Atlantic.

  • Smiling at work can make you appear more trustworthy and deepen bonds with coworkers, according to the Wharton School of Business.

The bottom line: Many of us took grins for granted until pandemic-era masking made smiles invisible overnight.

  • Try it next time you're in an awful traffic jam.
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