As Elle Woods would like to remind us “exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands.” Instead, they apparently make you break out into a satisfying sweat that will make your husband one happy hubby.
According to a recent study published in Psychological Science titled “A Sniff of Happiness: Chemicals in Sweat May Convey Positive Emotion,” when we are happy “we produce chemical compounds, or chemosignals” detectable by others who smell our sweat. So next time my boyfriend complains about my sweat-soaked hugs post-morning workout, I’ll assure him I’m only trying to put him in a good mood.
In order to test this theory, researchers from the Utrecht University of The Netherlands recruited 12 healthy Caucasian males to attach absorbent pads to their armpits while they watched a series of videos meant to convey specific emotions. After each film, sweat pads were collected and stored in vials. Researchers then selected 36 Caucasian women to take in each sweat sample’s smell during five-minute intervals in order to determine their initial reactions to each emotion-induced sweat scent.
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By analyzing each woman’s facial expressions, results showed that “women who were exposed to ‘fear sweat’ showed greater activity in the medial frontalis muscle, a common feature of fear expressions. And women who were exposed to ‘happy sweat’ showed more facial muscle activity indicative of a Duchenne smile, a common component of happiness expressions.”
Similar to how we are naturally inclined to yawn after the person next to us does, our bodies produce emotion-induced chemicals in our sweat that give off a positive or negative sense of smell, ultimately causing the emotions of those around us to adapt to our smell.
“Somebody who is happy will infuse others in their vicinity with happiness,” said senior researcher and psychological scientist Gün Semin of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “In a way, happiness sweat is somewhat like smiling — it is infectious.”
Of course, this theory is still developing. According to Semin, “This is another step in our general model on the communicative function of human sweat, and we are continuing to refine it to understand the neurological effects that human sweat has on recipients of these chemical compounds.”
But while a direct correlation between happy sweat and its effect on those around us is still being tested, this research gives us reason to believe that maybe gym buddies do have more fun, and hanging by the pool in the summer is pure bliss because while happiness is not only a smile on our faces, it is the result of a particularly positive-induced sweat.