Science says smile

Science says smile

Sometimes a simple smile goes a long way.

Let’s look at what science says

Altruism and Smiling

Being in a good mood makes you more altruistic, more likely to be generous and helpful towards others. The Science: Think back to the days of phoneboxes (if you can!). Think of a time when went into the phone box and found coins there (you know you checked). How great did that feel?

Capitalising on this moment, Isen and Levin set up a famous study where some people found money in the change drawer of a pay phone, and some people didn’t. As they left the phonebox, a person walked by and dropped a bunch of papers. The results: 84% of the people who found money helped pick up the papers, while only 4% of those who didn’t find money helped.

Whenever the Prophet saw me after I had embraced Islam; he would receive me with a smile. I have never seen anyone who smiles more than the Prophet.


Superior Reasoning

Being in a positive mood broadens your ability to draw information together to reason and make effective decisions. The Science: Estrada et al (1997) completed a study with doctors. A group of doctors were given gift of chocolates (they didn’t eat them) directly before reviewing cases which they had to diagnose.

What did they find? The Doctors demonstrated enhanced decision-making and diagnostic skills. There were not necessarily quicker or slower but they seemed to be better at drawing the evidence together for making an accurate diagnosis. This simple unexpected gift enhanced their ability to collate information and reason.


When is a positive mood, you have increased ability to solve problems and generate ideas! People in a negative mood state generate a fewer number of ideas than people in a positive mood state. The Science: Fredickson (2000) found that after watching a funny film, people demonstrated increased problem-solving abilities and increased ability to think of new ideas.

Healthy Immune System

Winter is coming fast, so take note of this great benefit! Happiness reduces the likelihood of catching a cold and also reduces your symptoms! The Science: Palmer (2003) took a group of participants and assessed their emotional and physical health. Then injected them with rhinovirus (common cold). On reassessment, Palmer found that people who presented with positive emotion had reduced symptoms and reduced likelihood of catching a cold. Also, increased stress levels and negative emotions have the opposite effect (a lot of evidence for this!).

“I never came across a person who smiled as much as Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Prophet Muhammad regarded smiling to a brother as an act of charity.”

At-Tirmidhi, 3641)

Work Productivity:

When you look at work lives and people’s productivity. People who say they’re happy in their work are also the ones who show the greatest productivity. The people who report being happy n in work also receive better evaluations and they seem to be getting better pay (Straw et al., 1994).

Living Longer

Happiness not only allows you to enjoy life but it’s likely you’ll live longer too! I think we can all agree that living longer is convincing motivation to invest in our wellbeing! The Science: The famous Nun Study. When a cohort of nuns when into a convent, they kept diaries. Danner et al., (2001) when back in time through the diaries. They looked at the use of positive or negative terminology state.

The results showed that the nuns who reported greater happiness also lived much longer, significantly longer. The reason this is quite powerful is that nuns in a convent have a very carefully controlled environment. So in a way, they all had a very similar lifestyle (food, exercise, work styles). It’s very convincing evidence that wellbeing contributes to living longer!

And if you had been rude in speech and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. 

(Quran 3:159)

Other studies also show smiling induces your body to calm your heart rate, relax your muscles and relax the tone of your voice. If you don’t really feel like smiling, fake it!

We can induce happiness by changing our facial muscles! Your brain is constantly assessing what your body is doing, so if your tummy rumbles your brain knows you’re hungry. Similarly, if you’re smiling your brain thinks you’re happy!

One study has actually shown that if you stick a pencil in your mouth and listen to jokes, you’re more likely to find them funnier than the people who don’t have a pencil in their mouth. It’s a small effect but it does work! (Stack et al., 1988; Soussignan, 2002).

We live in the moment but the way in which we retrieve past memories impacts on how we feel. So if we retrieve negative memories we feel bad. Or if we retrieve positive memories, we feel happy.

So how can I track my smiles? For one week, jot down three things that made you smile at the end of every day. You have to do it every day! You could write it in a Notes app on your phone, in an email, in a moleskin journal (for the hipsters out there!), on a napkin in Starbucks or in a Facebook status if you wish!

The rule here is you HAVE TO think of three moments that made you smile. Even if you’ve had the worst day possible, don’t go to sleep before you pencil down three moments.

They don’t have to be life-changing moments! For example:

  • The sun was shining on my walk to work;
  • The barista was super friendly when I got bought some coffee, I smiled at her;
  • The new intern is super hot;
  • I reassured the new person at work;
  • I had banter with the post-man;
  • A stranger smiled at me;
  • The morning radio parody was funny this morning;
  • I watched a video on YouTube;
  • John in the office told a great story.

So what happens when you do that? In a research study, it was found that the people who wrote down three good things about their day were significantly happier than people who didn’t keep a diary. They had far fewer depressive symptoms. (Seligman et al., 2005).

How on earth does this work you ask? It’s all about living in the moment so this task trains you over a week and you begin to think “oh, did I smile? Can I write this down later?”, “Let me think of another thing I can write down!” It trains you to rethink in a more positive way and live in the present moment!

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