Children smile around 400 times per day, but as adults, we only smile about 20 times a day. That’s not healthy for adults as it’s been proven that smiling is good for us.
Not only that, it’s good for the world around us.
“Smile and the world smiles with you.” (The often unheard part of that is: “Cry, and you cry alone.”)
So we can learn a lot from children.
Basically, as adults, we stop living in the moment. Also, we demand more from life – so setting ourselves up for being dissatisfied.
Then, many of us carry resentments like a heavy boulder that means achieving our goals is even more difficult. It’s why so many relate to the Greek myth about Sisyphus who had to roll a boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the summit, and he repeated this forever.
Children live in the now, have more acceptance, and if they do get a resentment, they are swiftly forgiving.
So many adults live in their head and are all about drive: what they need to do to get somewhere – but never enjoying the journey.
As John Lennon said:
“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”
Of course, children are generally unaware of what stress is.
This is because they don’t have anywhere near as much responsibility as we do when we are grown-up.
So they smile about 25 times every waking hour compared to an adult who on average smiles just a fraction more than once an hour over the day. Yet if we knew the benefits of smiling we’d surely do it more…
What are the benefits of smiling?
Boosts immune system
When we smile, our immune system is more effective because we’re more relaxed. That means the body knows we’re not in fight or flight mode when it redirects our blood to our brain, arms and legs – and that diminishes our immune system’s effectiveness.
It has also been discovered that smiling is a natural pain reliever as it releases chemicals called endorphins and serotonin.
Helps us live longer
As well as boosting immune defences, smiling lowers heart rate and blood pressure.
Wayne State University researchers in the US studied 230 photos of baseball players from the 1952 season. It was found that those who didn’t smile had a 50 per cent chance of surviving to 80, whereas those with big smiles had a 70 per cent chance of reaching this age.
Smiling reduces stress – amazingly, this is even if we force a smile. This is because the physical act of smiling activates neural messaging in the brain. The endorphins and serotonin that are released are known to be “feel-good” chemicals.
Look more confident and attractive
Studies show that people who regularly smile seem more confident and trustworthy. It is thought this is because we are naturally drawn to smiles.
This is why someone smiling will usually look more attractive. Muscles used to smile lift the face, which makes someone look younger too.
Uppsala University researchers in Sweden carried out a study in which people looked at photos of smiling or frowning faces.
They were asked to frown at a picture of someone smiling and vice versa. Electronic devices measured their facial movement, and it revealed it was much harder for them to frown at a photo of someone smiling than it was the other way round. So it’s true – smiling is infectious!
But since there is little we can do to avoid responsibility as adults – not least because many have children who need caring for every day – what can we do?
Many people have grown up in families that primarily focus on negative things, worst-case scenarios and what they don’t have in life. This sort of thinking doesn’t give much to smile about.
But it can be turned around with gratitude. That is, focus on all the positive aspects of life and what can go right with any ideas or plans. There is always something for which we can be grateful.
According to research published in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex in 2008, gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus.
This is the part of our brain that regulates stress and is connected to our rewards pathways.
The more times a certain neural pathway is used, the clearer that way becomes. This is why anything we focus on grows bigger – our magnifying minds.
We have a choice over which we focus on of the estimated 70,000 thoughts a day we have (according to the University of Southern California’s Laboratory Of NeuroImaging).
Focusing on gratitude means we are choosing positive over negative.
How can I be more grateful?
Write a gratitude list every evening
One of the most beneficial ways is to write down before bedtime ten things for which you’re grateful. Include “big” things such as health, friends, food, nature, being alive; and it can be “small” things too – but that are also all too often taken for granted – such as the internet or your favourite TV show.
Meditate in the morning
In the morning, soon after waking up, read through your gratitude list. Then start the day in stillness and quiet rather than scrolling through social media or packing your mind with busy thoughts. If during the day you find yourself drifting away from positivity, reread the gratitude list. Or, any time, write a new one.
Give gratitude for some things you don’t like
This seems tricky, but people who do it say they feel much more positive in life. This works when, for instance, you are stuck behind a slow driver. Instead of negative thoughts, think positively by giving gratitude for such as having the chance to practice your patience and tolerance.
Think too of such as there’s a valuable lesson for you to leave more time for journeys. We can most nearly always learn and grow from things like this in life.
Be grateful for your partner and family
Many people – especially if they’ve grown up in a similar family – will focus on the negative in their partner and family. Focus on their positives instead.
If you haven’t got a partner or children, focus on the positives of being single and without the ties of having a family.
Write positive affirmations
Write such as: “I am worthy of good things”, “I can” or “I love myself and others unconditionally”. As with a gratitude list, it’s most beneficial to start the day with this. But also at any time, especially if not feeling positive.
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