Montage of smiling multiethnic faces

Note:  Ray Craft died peacefully at home, on his 95th birthday, after many visits from family and friends. At the time of his death he was surrounded by family.  He lived a full life through his end of life.  He will be greatly missed. 

This past month, I had the pleasure of participating in my adoptive father’s 92 birthday; Ray Craft is a long time Reno resident. One of his good friends described him as the smiling man, always having that beautiful smile. It was this interaction that inspired me to write this article on smiling as the key to aging well.

Our society spends trillions of dollars every year on trying to improve our health and wellness with supplements, fitness routines, gym memberships, anti-aging potions, doctor visits, and prescriptions. There are many ways we can personally save money and improve our health, in fact, there are even a few things that we can do that are absolutely free. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve health, mood, longevity, and even success is to smile. You grow old because you stop laughing and smiling!

Smiling not only helps to prevent us from looking tired, worn down, and overwhelmed, but can actually help reduce stress. Next time you’re so frustrated you feel like gritting your teeth or screaming, you might try grinning or smiling instead. Studies suggest smiling is not only good for you psychologically, but also physiologically.

Surprisingly, a smile can bring health benefits even if you don’t start out feeling happy. Smiling can trick the body into helping you elevate your mood and sense of wellbeing because the physical act of smiling actually activates neural messaging in your brain. A smile releases natural anti-depressant neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.  Smiling not only has the power to elevate your mood, but it can also change the moods of others and make things happier. It is scientifically proven that smiles are contagious.

Studies have also shown that people who smile regularly appear more confident and are more likely to be approached. People react positively to those that smile and smiling helps you stay positive. Even when a smile feels forced, it still sends the brain and our whole body the message that everything is good. Smiling can ward off worry, depression, and stress. When you smile, the world tends to smile with you.

Smiling and laughing can have a positive effect on your well-being, but as you make the transition from child to adult, you often tend to lose this behavior. A good example of this is a children’s playground where you see kids running around, constantly laughing and smiling as they enjoy living in the moment, while the parents sit around the edge frowning and full of stress that adult parental life brings. Adults can benefit from taking a lead from children and making more room in their life for smiling and laughter.

Research has also shown that there a number of additional health benefits contributed to smiling and laughing. In addition to improved health, these simple facial expressions and common human behaviors can have a distinctive positive effect on all areas of your life. When you smile and laugh, a number of physiological changes occur in your body, mostly without you being consciously aware of it happening. The act of smiling actually helps the human immune system to function more effectively. It is thought that when you smile, immune function improves because you are more relaxed due to the release of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters called endorphins are released when you smile. These are triggered by the movements of the muscles in your face, which is interpreted by your brain, which in turn releases these chemicals. Endorphins are responsible for making us feel happy, and they also help lower stress levels. Faking a smile or laugh works as well as the real thing—the brain doesn’t differentiate between real or fake as it interprets the positioning of the facial muscles in the same way. The more we stimulate our brain to release this chemical the more often we feel happier and relaxed. They also act as the body’s natural pain killers. While the release of endorphins is increased, the stress hormone cortisol is reduced. Cortisol is more active when we feel stressed or anxious and contributes to the unpleasant feelings we experience, and by lowering it we can reduce these negative feelings.

Dad (90th Birthday)

Smiling and laughing have positive social implications as well. Smiling is an attractive expression, which is more likely to draw people to you rather than push them away. Smiling makes you appear more approachable. Interaction with others is easier and more enjoyable when smiles and laughs are shared, and these behaviors are contagious, making others feel better too, making you a more appealing and attractive person to be around. This in turn will have a positive effect on your well-being.

You have probably heard that it takes fewer muscles when smiling than when frowning, so why not smile? Although the exact amount of muscles needed to smile or frown is not quite agreed upon, there are many reasons to smile each day. Those who smile live longer. It is no secret that our emotional health is tied closely to our physical health. Since smiling means you are happy (and getting happier by the very act of smiling), you will likely live a longer, more relaxed life than those who regularly frown. Smiling actually boosts your immune system and can help you live 7 years longer on average! So what better way to add life to years than to smile. Ray Craft is the model elder for living a healthy long life of smiling.