April 27, 2010

Smiling and Longevity

"You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart. Then people gonna treat you better, you're gonna find, yes you will, that you're beautiful as you feel." ~Carol King 

Facial Expressions are the mirror of our inner emotional landscape.  Try this right now, while you read this.  Smile. I  mean really smile: feel the corners of your mouth lifting and your eyebrows arching.  Maybe you will even feel your scalp move or cheekbones lift.  Now imagine how you must look while you are doing this: smiling like crazy whilst you look at your computer... you might even be able to see your reflection in your monitor... and perhaps you will smile even more!.  Smiling breeds smiling, in yourself and others around you.  It sounds silly but it's simple, and true.  I have been experimenting on myself.  When I notice my brow furrowing I actively lift the muscles in my forehead and immediately start to feel better.  The neuronal pathways associated with smiling are also associated with good feelings.  You can actually change the way you feel by simply smiling.

The Journal Psychological Science recently reported that the length of one's smile may dictate the length of one's life.  Researchers from Wayne State University examined Baseball Register photos of 230 Major League Baseball Players who started playing before 1950.  The researchers classified each smile into one of three categories: non-smilers; partial smile - where the muscles around their mouths were only slightly raised; and "full smile" or Duchenne smile: wide grin, both cheeks raised.

Of the three categories who lived the longest?  You guessed it, the smilers.  The non-smilers lived an average of 72.9 years, the partial smilers lived an average of 75 years, and the biggest smilers lived the longest, 79.9 years.  Interestingly, the researchers also did a follow-up study with the same baseball players exploring attractivenesss and longevity, and found that good looks did not correlate with a longer life.  This hearkens back to Carol King's lyric "you're beautiful as you feel."

We have long sensed the benefits of laughter and humor in our lives, now science is bearing out our suspicions.  Laughter reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn stimulates the immune system and lowers blood pressure.  After a good long laugh have you ever felt soreness in your muscles?  Laughter gives your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg and back muscles a workout. Researchers estimate that laughing 100 times is equal to 10 minutes on the rowing machine or 15 minutes on an exercise bike!  A good laugh enhances oxygen intake, stimulates the heart and lungs, relaxes muscles, triggers the release of endorphins, eases digestion, improves mental alertness and creativity, improves sleep, the list goes on. 
If you need something to help you get into the mood, check out this great old clip from the classic television show The Odd Couple.  As a child I saw this episode and thought it was so funny to see the fastidious, grown-up Felix writing such a banal and silly song, and then commandeering all of his friends to perform it with him.  The mere sight of Oscar Madison on tambourine is reason alone to watch.  Felix's song "Happy and Peppy and Bursting with Love" is a mantra in our family. When my kids start to get cranky with each other, or when someone in our family is slipping into the scowl of crankiness, one of us might ask the other "Happy and Peppy and Bursting With Love?"  It is usually so out of context for the moment that it changes the vibe and the next thing we know we are smiling. 

(If you need some more help, here is a clip of Will Ferrell as George W. Bush discussing global warming.  I laughed so hard this morning when I watched this I cried...)

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