When it comes to smiling, “fake it until you make it” may be the best way to relieve stress, according to a new study.
Smiles are highly visible signs of happiness, but researchers from the University of Kansas wanted to see whether faking a smile could improve a person's mood and help them get through a stressful situation.
In the study, published in Psychological Science, participants carried out stressful tasks while holding chopsticks in their mouths. The chopsticks were meant to mimic different facial expressions—neutral, a standard smile involving just the muscles around the mouth, and a Duchenne smile using both the mouth and eye muscles.
People who held fake smiles recovered faster, which showed up as a lower heart rate. This change in stress level was even more noticeable for people with the full eye/mouth smile.
In addition, half of the participants with fake smiles weren’t told that the chopsticks were meant to simulate a smile. After the tasks, their mood dropped less, compared to people holding the neutral expression.
This isn’t the first study to link smiling and health. Other research has shown that smiling can affect our emotions, which in turn are linked to how well we handle stress. In the end, being able to relieve stress is good for your health. Even if it means smiling when you just aren’t feeling it.