Smile and Laugh Your Way to Good Health!

There's a new study out that indicates smiling, especially the genuine type where more than just your mouth is involved, might help lower your heart rate after experiencing a stressful situation.

It gives whole new meaning to “grin and bear it," doesn't it? Apparently, not only should you engage your mouth and teeth, the best kind of smiling to achieve this slower heart rate is the Duchenne way – which includes more of your face and your eye muscles, too.

But really, how many of us are smiling after a really stressful situation? Do you feel like smiling after sitting in traffic or realizing you're late for an appointment – or maybe learning your son has just added a second tattoo? (A story for another time.) Think about all the stressful times you've endured in your life. Is smiling the first thing you'd want to do afterward? It's more likely that most of us would want to scream -- or reach for a glass of wine.

But, OK, I'm willing to give it a try. After all, I smile a great deal already – and often without realizing it. In fact, sometimes when I think I'm grimacing, especially in very brisk New England winds, people think I'm smiling at them and say hello or smile back. It can be very disconcerting when you're gritting your teeth while wishing you lived in Florida and people think you're not only happy, you're happy to see them. Of course, maybe it puts them in better spirits to see someone surviving the winter – or perhaps my expression looks so ridiculous they can't help grinning.

Whatever the case, I do like that idea of lowering my heart rate but I'm a little concerned that using those eye muscles too much might have long-term repercussions. Will people believe me when I say, “Those aren't wrinkles or laugh lines – they're proof I'm following my health regime"?

I didn't see any mention of this in the article about how this smiling-is-heart-healthy study in the journal Psychological Science, but I did learn there's also lots of research indicating laughing has numerous health benefits, too, including lowering stress, easing pain and boosting your immune system; The Mayo Clinic has two pages on its website that extol the stress-relief benefits of laughing, for example. Apparently laughter being the best medicine isn't a joke.

But if laughing lowers stress, should I be laughing DURING the stressful situation and then smiling AFTERWARD to get the most health benefits?

Fortunately, I do love to laugh and do it several times a day – mostly at myself. By these standards, I'm probably the healthiest person on the planet.

What about you? Would you smile and laugh more often if you thought it would give you better health? After all, that's no laughing matter – or is it?

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