What Babies Can Teach Us Over 60s About the Power of Smiling

by Noelle Nelson

Smiling contributes significantly to your happiness, health and longevity, so the research tells us.

Yeah, right, I’m thinking, when my dance teacher commands us to “Smile!” even as I am contorting my body into a completely unnatural position. If this choreography doesn’t kill me first sure, I’ll smile!

Yet, two fascinating studies proclaim the power of the ordinary, garden-variety smile.

The Power of a Simple Smile

The first, a UC Berkeley study by L. Harker, Ph.D. and D. Keltner, Ph.D., looked at the college yearbook pictures of 100 women, assessed their smiles as shown in the pictures, and then measured their levels of well-being and happiness over a period of 32 years.

The bigger the smile, the more likely a woman was to have enjoyed a fulfilling and long-lasting marriage, to score high on tests of well-being and general happiness, as well as to be a source of inspiration to others. Not bad!

But there’s more. In what has to be one of the most innovative pieces of longevity research, E. Abel, Ph.D. and M. Kruger, Ph.D., from Wayne University looked at photographs of Major League baseball players from 1952.

Amazingly enough, a player’s smile predicted their longevity! Players who smiled – the bigger the better – lived an average of 79.9 years, whereas players who didn’t smile lived an average of only 72.9 years. That’s seven years of additional happy life just based on a smile.

Smiling is Good for You

Clearly, smiling is good for you. So why don’t we do it more often? Why do adults smile anywhere from five times a day (the mostly unhappy ones) to 40 times a day (the happy ones), when children smile, on the average, 400 times a day? Babies are known to smile non-stop, unless they’re hungry or sleeping.

It might have something to do with living in the present. Kids do, babies certainly do, but most of us adults don’t. Right around when we hit the age of reason (7 years old), life’s cares take over.

Your happiness no longer depends on what’s immediately in front of you, but is increasingly contingent on whatever happened yesterday and what might happen tomorrow.

Moreover, far too much of our focus is on the bad/uncomfortable/worrisome stuff that happened yesterday and the likelihood of more bad/uncomfortable/worrisome stuff happening tomorrow. No wonder we stop smiling.

Babies Can Teach Us a Lot About Smiling

Truly, it doesn’t have to be that way. We were all babies once. That means you have the wherewithal to smile, no matter how ornery and smile-less you may be today. You can easily increase both the number of times you smile in a day, and the wattage of your smile, by becoming more mindful of your present moment.

In all honesty, there are tons of reasons to smile each and every day. The sun came up; you’re alive (just going for the basics here). Smile! Why not? No one’s looking.

You poured yourself a cup of tea/coffee and are enjoying the smell or taste – so smile! You look through your closet; you choose an outfit you like, smile! Someone lets you in their lane in traffic, smile! You find a parking place, smile!

It’s not that there aren’t plenty of reasons to smile all through your day, it’s simply that we forget to do it. We don’t allow the little things to please us. We gloss right over the pleasure they give because that pleasure isn’t the humongous thrill of winning the lottery or falling in love.

Do yourself a favor. Allow that smile to bubble up from within you, genuinely, as often as possible throughout your day. You’ll feel better, you’ll be happier, and guess what? You’ll probably live longer, too!

I’d say that’s every bit as good as winning the lottery.

What simple things make you smile each day? Does smiling make you feel good? How do the smiles of others make you feel? Please share your thoughts and experiences below!

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