World Smile Day: Do an act of kindness. Help one person smile!

Today, being the first Friday of October, is World Smile Day. The idea for the day comes from Harvey Ball, artist from Worcester Massachusetts USA, and the guy whose claim to fame is the creation of the iconic Smiley Face in 1963.

(Pumbaa, Wikimedia Commons)

As the smiley face gained popularity, Ball felt it lost its original meaning. This resulted to the creation of World Smile Day – the smiley face shows no discrimination in terms of politics, geography or religion, and Ball felt that, for at least one day a year, we should put aside our prejudices as well. World Smile Day asks of you to “Do an act of kindness. Help one person smile!”

When Ball died in 2001, the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation was created in his honour. The foundation, whose slogan is “Improving this world, one smile at a time”, remains the official sponsor of World Smile Day activities in Ball’s hometown.

On the subject of smiling – earlier in the year, on SCUD Day, I wrote a blog post about the psychological benefits of smiling, and how even just pulling your face into a smile can ‘fool’ you into feeling better.  It seems, however, that the benefits of smiling does not stop there.

Conclusive proof of the contagious nature of a smile – it’s impossible to not smile while looking at these happy faces!
(© All Rights Reserved)

I found an excellent article on the Forbes website, where Ron Gutman, founder and CEO of HealthTap, discusses many of the scientifically researched benefits of smiling. Here’s some of the results I found particularly interesting:

A 30-year longitudinal study done at the University of California Berkeley measured smiles of students in old yearbooks, and used this to predict future happiness – how happy their marriages would be, how well they would score on standardized well-being and happiness tests, and how they would inspire others. It turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, that the widest smilers in college turned out to be the happiest people in life.

A similar study at Wayne State University looked at baseball card photos of Major League players from 1952, and found that the span of their smiles served as a fairly accurate prediction of life-expectancy! The non-smilers lived to an average age of almost 73, while the smilers on average made it to almost 80.

Smiling is one of the most basic, and most universal, human expressions. In cultural studies on Papua New Guinea’s Fore Tribe, who had no contact with western culture and is known for their cannibalism, it was found that even in that very remote culture smiles were used very similar to how we use it.

Studies done in Sweden show that other people’s smiles suppress the control we usually have over our own facial muscles, causing us to smile involuntarily. Apparently it is also very difficult to frown when looking at someone smiling.

And here’s the clincher – according to a UK research study, it was found that a smile could generate an equivalent amount of ‘feel good activity’ in the brain as 2000 chocolate bars!

Have a look at Gutman’s article – it’s a most amusing read.

Have a brilliant World Smile Day, everybody. I think the wise Mother Teresa said it best: “Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”

Today is SCUD Day! What day!? Read on…

According to numerous holiday and celebration sources, today is the day to ‘SCUD’, that is, to Savour the Comic and Unplug the Drama. Still a bit confused? So was I.

The basic idea behind the day is to remind people to focus on the bright side of life, and to stop being such drama queens and kings. Have some fun, take life a little less seriously, laugh more. And given the health benefits such a turn of attitude can bring, it’s certainly a day (and a sentiment) worth celebrating.

Don’t worry, be happy!
(© All Rights Reserved)

It has long been suggested that, just like we tend to smile when we’re in a good mood, the arrow also points the other way – our mood may improve when we smile (the “facial feedback” hypothesis). This is nothing new – Charles Darwin already suggested in 1872 that “the free expression of outward signs of an emotion intensifies it”.

The problem is that scientifically proving this relationship is quite difficult, with various factors potentially affecting the results. it is possible that, aside from the action of smiling, the instruction to smile may also create an emotional response (positive or negative – try telling a teenager to smile and watch the reaction!). Furthermore, sitting in a room full of smiling people is likely to raise your mood, whether you’re smiling or not.

Various research projects have been reported where these problems have been innovatively addressed, for example, by asking recipients to hold a pencil either between their teeth (which mimicks a smiling action) or between their lips (which does not), or by using more neutral smiling instructions, such as “Move your lips to expose your teeth while keeping your mouth closed, and pull the corners of your lips outward”.

Once participants were made to simulate a smiling expression, their responses to various positive and negative stimuli were measured, and compared to non-smiling control groups. In general it has been found that the smiling action intensified the participants’ reaction to positive stimuli, but seems to have less impact in response to negative stimuli.

For example, looking at a funny cartoon will lift your mood more when you’re smiling than when you’re not. On the other hand, reading a list of your monthly debts is depressing, and smiling while reading it is unlikely to leave you notably less depressed.

[Strack (1988), Soussignan (2002)]

So, your assignment on SCUD Day is to think happy thoughts and to expose yourself to positive stimuli. At the same time, pack out a big smile, and you will double the positive impact. Oh, and while you’re at it, surround yourself by others doing the same thing – the positive reinforcement of seeing others happily smiling back at you will lift your mood even more.

Come on, Savour the Comic, Unplug the Drama!