Why Am I Smiling?


How does happiness researcher Sarah Pressman deal with stress? She smiles. “I smile when I’m stuck in traffic,” she says. And when she goes to the doctor’s office? She smiles when she gets a shot.

Why? Her research has found that people who smiled while receiving a needle injection rated the ordeal as 40% less painful than those who didn’t. And their heart rates didn’t increase as much in response to the stress of the injection either.

Pressman, who has been researching happiness for a decade, is convinced that “positive emotion is good for you.”

Her advice for when the going gets tough? Turn that frown upside down.

“It’s amazing that it works,” says Pressman in a recent issue of Time Magazine. “We’re still trying to unpack why.”

In the meantime? You’re never fully dressed for that excruciating tax audit without a smile.

It’s a strategy I think of as Counterintuitive Smiling. The worse it gets, the more you beam.

You’re stopped for driving 60 mph in a 55 mph zone? Give that police officer a grin!

Caught in a downpour on your way to work? Let a smile be your umbrella.

Being happy could extend your life. According to Time, one study found that older people who reported being the least happy died at nearly twice the rate in the next five years as people who reported being the most happy.

Clearly, the right strategy as we age is to go through life is smiling when bad news strikes, and staying happy no matter what.

Sometimes, of course, this is a challenge.

Your hubby reveals that he’s been cheating on you and asks for a divorce. Greet his news with a cheerful “Terrific! I hope that works out for you.”

Your daughter drops out of her Ivy League school in order to her true passion, which is pole dancing. Beam and say “Great idea! You go girl!”

Your dentist tells you that you need a root canal. Look pleased and say “Doc, you just made my day!”

I recently decided to go through an entire day with a smile on my face, rather than employing my usual coping mechanisms if things went wrong — swearing and sarcasm.

When I told a patron at the library where I work that he couldn’t check anything out until he paid the $40 fine he owed us and he started hollering at me, I did my best to look delighted.

When our waitress got my lunch order wrong, instead of grousing, I cheerfully asked her to re-do it.

Faced with an interminable line at the Post Office, I put on a happy face and held it for the 15 minutes it took to get to the front of the line, then greeted the postal clerk with a cheery “Hello! Nice day, isn’t it?”

Apparently, this behavior will make me happier. It could even extend my life. (And if nothing else, it’s fun to see how contagious happiness is: when folks expecting a snarl from you get a smile instead, they’ll often smile right back.)

And the next time I go to the doctor’s office and get a shot? I plan to shout “Yippee! Hallelujah!”

That should give the nurses something to smile about.

Roz Warren  is the author of OUR BODIES, OUR SHELVES, A COLLECTION OF LIBRARY HUMOR. http://ow.ly/LpFgE. This piece first appeared on Newsworks.)

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