How Does Smiling Make You Happy? (Even If You Don’t Mean It)

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how does smiling make you happy

Most of us just want to be happy, right? But what does being happy actually mean? Is it something we do, something we become or something we achieve? And how does smiling make you happy, even if the smile isn’t real?

Whatever it is, there are those days we just feel downright, nothing-anyone-can-say-or-do-to-make-you-feel-better sad

And the last thing you feel like doing is smiling. 

There might be a reason or there might not. Either way, you just can’t get over the feelings of bleurgh and meh and you want nothing more than to crawl under your duvet and let the world pass you by as you wallow deeper and deeper into your pit of sad-dom.

Who’s been there?

But there seems to be some proof in the saying: ‘Turn your frown upside down.’

Yes, people, science does back up the theory that a simple smile can make you happy. 

How does smiling make you happy?

In 1988, Fritz Strack and his team set about investigating the hypothesis that people’s facial activity influences their affective responses. You might have heard it as the hold-the-pencil-in-your-mouth-and-smile experiment. 

If you’re not familiar with it, a team of scientists asked a group of people to watch cartoons. Half the participants were instructed to watch it with a pencil held between their lips and the other half were asked to watch the cartoons with the pencil held between their teeth. 

The experiment reported that the participants who held the pencil between their teeth claimed to find the cartoons funnier. The reason, the researchers claimed, was because holding a pencil in between their teeth simulated the act of smiling. 

Simply moving your facial muscles into a ‘smile’ – real or fake – will trigger the release of teeny-but-mighty stress-busting molecules known as neuropeptides. These little treasures communicate messages between neurons, sending out messages across our body to let it know that we are happy, sad, tired, angry and so on. 

The neuropeptides, along with the feel-good chemical brothers known as dopamine, endorphins and serotonin work together to relax your body and make you feel less stressed, and all it takes to set these guys off is a smile. 

And, get this, it doesn’t even have to be a real smile.

Fake it til you make it, baby

how does smiling make you happy

There are days when we just don’t feel smiling. 

End of. 

It doesn’t matter if your barista gives you a hug (as happened to me only recently when I had a full-on melt-down at the counter. Life just overwhelmed me and well, there was something about asking for a large skinny vanilla cappuccino that I just couldn’t handle at that moment). It was a lovely, much-needed gesture, and I managed to gulp out a choked, ‘Thank you,’ but I couldn’t smile. 

That was a tough day.

So what else is there to do on those kinds of days but fake it. 

That’s right. 

And do you know something, what I’m about to tell you actually does work and makes you feel that little bit happier. Perhaps only a little bit but some days, a little bit at a time is all it needs to be. 

How to feel happier when you don’t feel it? Here’s how…

Try this smile experiment 

Okay, you might feel like a bit of a dick but trust me for one second. 

Like I said, it works!

And if it doesn’t, what have you lost?


Get yourself in front of a mirror. 

See that gorgeous face? 

It’s all yours, my beautiful!

Now look yourself directly in the eyes and… smile.

I’m not talking a half-hearted slight upturn of the lips but a big smile, one that reaches the top of your cheeks and makes your eyes crease. Remember, those things you think of as wrinkles? Every line around your eyes was placed there through joy. Let’s get more there. 

While you smile, count to one minute, or set a timer to make it more accurate.


That’s it. 

You might not be singing from the rooftops but I’m pretty sure you probably feel a little less shit than you did before you smiled at yourself. So if you wanted to know smiling can make you happy, that’s how!

Share the joy

Finally, smiling is infectious and fresh air is also beneficial, so why not combine the two mood-boosters by taking a walk and challenging yourself to smile at people you pass? 

You never know what someone else is going through either. Perhaps your smile is what they need to trigger theirs and turn their day around? 

Your smile is powerful, both for yourself and others. 

And isn’t that quite something to be happy about?

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