Think of a bad day. You wake up late. Your boss yells at you for something you couldn’t help. When you stop at the store, they are out of the detergent you usually buy, so you have to make another stop. Over dinner, you and your spouse get into an argument over something that’s not even worth fighting over. Just before bedtime, one of your children managed to smear peanut butter down the wall of the hallway.
As you begin to clean up the peanut butter hands, your child looks up at you and smiles. She is delighted with the experience of having the sticky nut butter on her fingers and painting with it. And as frustrated as you are, you can’t help but smile back at her joy and innocence. Immediately, you feel a little better. You carry the smile back with you to your spouse only to find that it’s contagious. Instead of continuing your argument, he smiles back at you, and you’re able to let go of the petty disagreement and laugh over the new paint job in the hall. Your day ultimately ends much better than it started out, and you feel peaceful when you turn in for the night.
One of the reasons smiles are so powerful is because they release positive neurotransmitters into your brain: serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine. These chemicals ease pain, lower blood pressure, and simply make you feel good. They are your body’s natural defense against depression, and in fact prescription anti-depressants are often based on a combination of the three.
Research shows that if someone smiles at you, you feel rewarded and you are most likely to smile back. In fact, if you don’t, it’s because you are making a conscious effort to not return the smile. So not only does a smile boost your own mood through those natural neurotransmitters, since it’s contagious, it boosts the mood of everyone else you smile at.