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Power and intelligence: What science says a smile communicates

Kristin is a freelance magazine and web editor. She's compulsively organized, loves solving people's problems, and makes ice cream in her spare time, which you can read about on her blog: belinder.co

The benefits of smiling

Next time you’re stressed or having a bad day, the fastest way to boost your mood just might be to smile. Sounds easy, right? The good news is that it’s just as easy as it sounds. There’s an abundance of recent research that shows smiling is both contagious and great for your health.

Smiling is one of the few things that we do without being taught. Researchers have discovered that infants actually smile in the womb. According to Marianne LaFrance in her book Lip Service, "Scientists have observed babies practicing their smiles in the womb, showing recognizable smiles a month or two before birth. They smile involuntarily because they need to have those muscles operational so that they can entice supportive adults." Other studies have shown that smiles are universal, and translate the same across all cultures.

But don’t be fooled, not all smiles are created equal. Researchers generally separate them into the social smile and the Duchenne smile (named for the researcher who first identified the difference). The difference between these two smiles is all in the eyes. A social smile involves the mouth only, while the Duchenne smile shows in both the mouth and the eyes. (We’re still waiting for research on smizing, the eye-only smile touted by Tyra Banks.)

So, how does a smile help your health and what does it tell other people? It turns out that not only will a smile help you lower your stress level and look younger to other people, but it also could help you live longer.

Appear more intelligent

Turns out brains and beauty might go hand-in-hand after all. A study from PLoS ONE revealed that when rating the intelligence of someone just by looking at a photo, people who were smiling — even slightly — were assumed to be more intelligent.

Learn where you rank in your company

Surprisingly, one of the things that a smile doesn't communicate is power. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego showed that people are less likely to return a smile to someone if they believe them to be more powerful or of higher status than they are. For example, your boss is much more likely to return your smile than they are to return a smile from their boss. So, next time you pass your boss or the SVP in charge of your department in the hall, give them a smile and see if they return it.

Reduce stress

A study from the University of Kansas showed that smiling actually lowered the study participants’ heart rate during stressful situations. And that even social smilers saw a difference in stress level, but the biggest benefit came from the genuine smiles. Just think what a difference smiling could make the next time you’re on hold with an airline trying to figure out summer travel troubles.

Appear more attractive

Yes, it’s true, wearing a smile will show off the most attractive and trustworthy side of your personality. Researchers at the University of Stirling and the University of Aberdeen in the U.K. found that people are deemed more attractive and to have more positive personality traits when they are smiling versus when they are shown with a neutral face.

Live longer

A study from Wayne University examined the photographs of Major League Baseball players. They found that those players who were more often photographed smiling lived an average of seven years longer than those players who did not smile, and nearly five years longer than those who only showed social smiles.

Have a happier marriage

Who knew that your high school yearbook photo could predict so much about your life? A study from the University of California, Berkeley found that women who showed a positive emotion in their yearbook photos were more likely to be married by their late 20s and more likely to be in satisfying marriages 30 years later. Those same women were also more likely to be satisfied with life in general.

Enjoy the pleasure of chocolate without the calories

It turns out the fastest way to boost your endorphins is to simply look at a photo of a child smiling. Research conducted by Hewlett Packard showed that when participants in the study were shown a photo of a child smiling their brains experienced the same level of happiness as they would have from eating 2,000 chocolate bars (without the stomachache) or receiving $16,000 — in cash. Even better news is that kid smiles are an abundant resource. Turns out that kids smile as many as 400 times per day.

With all the benefits of smiling, you’ll want to be sure your pearly whites are in fact pearly and white. To keep your smile shining try ARM & HAMMER™ Truly Radiant™ toothpaste, that whitens and strengthens your enamel, and the ARM & HAMMER™ Spinbrush™ Truly Radiant™ Deep Clean toothbrush, which has specialty whitening bristles to remove 100 percent more plaque than a manual toothbrush. And once you have that dazzling smile, check out these foolproof smile-inducers. Plus, share your favorites in the comments.

3 Ways to bring a smile to your face

1. Happier app: Available on both iPhone and Android, Happier is the most positive social network around. Nataly Kogan, co-founder of Happier says that since they launched Happier users have shared more than seven million smiles. You can find out more info and download the app here.

2. Daily Puppy: The name is pretty self-explanatory. New puppy photos every day, and frequently the pups shown are available for adoption. Who can resist smiling at their adorable faces?

3. The Lilly Ann Workout: This is a personal favorite of mine. Who can resist this father-daughter duo doing baby Pilates?

Watch: Ron Gutman’s TED Talk on “The hidden power of smiling" >>

This post is sponsored by ARM & HAMMER™.

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