In a recent study published this year in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, smiling and laughter not only improved stress and depression in a cohort of cancer patients, it also improved their overall prognosis (Lee, Kim & Park, May 2020).
Having a dance party is one of the coping strategies I recommend to clients to help manage stress. Dancing your a** off with family, friends, a faithful pet, or just by yourself during quarantine is exactly what the doctor ordered to improve health and wellness, but it will also do something else: Make you smile!
Smiling is infectious. In a good way. In fact, seeing someone smile at you activates your orbitofrontal cortex--that's the part of your brain responsible for sensory rewards. Once activated, endorphins flood the brain, making you feel happy.
Exercise also creates endorphin-release. And yeah, that includes sex. Sex and happiness are inextricably connected, which means sex and better health are also inextricably connected--hence my continued push for those who have found real love to pursue that love until a lasting partnership can be formed. If you want a shot at living longer and stronger, finding a partner you have chemistry with is of the utmost importance--especially now.
The study of psychoneuroimmunology is all about how the brain is connected to our immune system. According to research in Psychological Science, wearing what's called a Duchenne smile not only helps decrease stress, but improves heart health (Kraft & Pressman 2012). The Duchenne smile is essentially what happens when you "smile with your eyes." That's what I'm doing in the picture insert. In order for me to produce that kind of smile, I have to think of the person I'm in love with. Inevitably, images of rainbows, the ocean, dolphins, sunshine, and yes, unicorns pop up as a result. And, at least for that moment, I feel happier.
Even if you're no longer connected to the person who makes you think of rainbows, dolphins and unicorns, you can still smile when you think of them, improving your overall health and longevity when you do. No, it's not as awesome as being in those strong arms for the rest of your life--I know--but hey, if you feel real love for a person, you can't be angry with them. You might be saddened and/or disappointed by the lost potential, but you know that every time you see a rainbow, you'll remember their smile and that will put one on your face, too.
French neurologist, Guillaume Duchenne (1806-1875) is credited with differentiating two distinct smiles among humans. The Duchenne smile involves the zygomaticus major (muscles that pull up the corners of your mouth) as well as the orbicularis oculi (facial muscles that raise your cheeks and cause "crow's feet" or wrinkling of the thin skin under the eyes). Meeting and greeting in the time of COVID isn't easy. But just because it's prudent to forego the traditional handshake doesn't mean eye-contact and the trust that goes with it is lost. Smiles have been found to be equivalent to a good, solid handshake in bolstering trust when we meet new people (Fine & Rajput, MedEdPublish 2020).
What makes you smile?
For me, it's a person. Near or far, whenever I think of his face, I smile. Even when I want to be angry at him or with him, I can't be. Don't want to be. My heart is happiest when he's in it, so it just makes sense to keep him there. We get angry at people when they leave or draw boundaries, but we're not really angry at them so much as we are at ourselves. The difference is, we have to live with ourselves, so we tend to project our disappointment, anger, and anguish onto someone else. And, guess what? The person who's no longer around is simply the easiest target.
The current health crisis is frightening. As the world begins to adjust to "the new normal" without a proven treatment or vaccine, we're all more anxious, more sad, more scared, and yes, more angry. But none of those emotions can help bolster your immune system. In fact, research suggests it's just the opposite. So, keep smiling! And, smile and wave at others whenever you can--it will help everyone not only feel better, but also, live longer and stronger, too.
And yes, please connect with the person you feel real love for--if you have chemistry that's off-the-charts, you probably also have some seriously deep love-feelings behind that soul-longing to put your bodies together. Passion isn't lust. You may feel lustful for the person you love, too, but that burning desire to become one body and one soul is not lust. When you want to give more than you receive because you want to make someone else happy, that's love. Go for it, and you will be happier, healthier, and yes, wealthier, too--but that's a topic for another time.
SMILE FOR THE CAMERA
In the absence of romance, you can make yourself smile through any one of these tips and tricks:
1. Dancing to upbeat music (both Madonna and I work out to Shake That by Eminem and Mr. Brightside by The Killers)
2. Turning on a rom-com (I'm loving The Wedding Date at the moment)
3. Doing meditative activities like cooking (I made home-made vanilla ice cream this weekend and it was insanely good)
4. Taking a walk in nature
5. Spending time with pets
6. Participating in pretty much any artistic expression
Another trick? If you're like me and "smile with your eyes" all the time, to blank out those crow's feet without Botox, face an open window (especially on a sunny day) when you take a selfie--it's better than any filter. If you're outdoors, try to have the sun behind you. By the way, I didn't always have straight teeth and basically avoided smiling for 20 years as a result. But I got sick of looking sad in every picture, so found Smile Direct (a series of clear retainers used over five months), and today, I can't stop smiling.
Want a whiter, brighter smile? Avoid coffee, tea, juice, soda, and red wine. And, use a whitening toothpaste and rinse after every meal/snack (or drink anything that is dark in color). Drink water between meals and avoid sodas and juices. In about 7-10 days, you'll find your smile improves by at least 2-3 shades. You might get a little leaner, too. Removing soda and juice from your diet alone can lead to 25+/- lbs of weight loss over the course of a year--now that's something to smile about!
Smiling is good for you and good for everyone around you, too. So keep smiling! We may be in the midst of a pandemic, but smiling is free. Like kindness...a little can go a very long way.
Stay safe! And always remember to SMILE....