Everyday I walk to yoga and pass by our neighborhood Starbucks. As I was strolling by last week, I happened to look in the window. There were about 5 kids sitting at the counter, sipping hot beverages, and watching people pass by. The kids were probably 7 or 8 years old and they were super cute. The moment I looked up all of the kids waived at me and smiled, in unison. It looked like there was a supervising adult with the kids. As soon as she saw the kids smiling and waving she started laughing and smiling too. Before I knew it I had a huge goofy grin on my face.
The kids started a cascade of smiling!
This was a small moment that lasted for about 10 seconds. But those short seconds reminded me that smiling is a powerful act. Before the kids smiled at me, I was in my own little world thinking about writing and the upcoming week. All this thinking and worrying made me feel stressed out and overwhelmed.
Generally, when I take short or longs walks I try and be in the moment, smile, and notice the details, like all the brilliant fall colors. However, on this day I wasn't present. I was imagining the future and thinking about the past. The kids in Starbucks reminded me to slow down, enjoy the present moment, and to smile more often.
So what does research tell us about smiling?
Decades of research has established that smiling and laughter boost our well-being, reduce anxiety and stress, and enable us to cope with good and bad situations.
Interestingly, research has shown that facial expressions can influence your emotions. For instance, the act of smiling can make you happier, even if it's a fake smile. In The How of Happiness, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky discussed a number of fascinating studies about smiling. One study showed that "mothers who express positive emotions have infants who begin to express positive emotions as well."
Other studies have shown that "the facial changes involved in smiling have direct effects on certain brain activities associated with happiness."
So just do it. Start smiling and laughing more. By acting like you're more optimistic and outgoing, you'll be able to manage stress and become a happier person.