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Smile though your heart is aching...

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, August 2, 2012

New research suggests smiling may be good for your heart. Even unintentional and literally mechanical smiles may help.

Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman, psychological scientists at the University of Kansas, wanted to know if that old bromide "grin and bear it" had any merit. Turns out it does. Their study is described in ScienceDaily and MedicalNewsToday.

The two researchers asked 169 student volunteers to learn to hold a neutral expression, or a smile using only their mouths, or the kind of happy smile identified by the French physician Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne. In the 1860s, Duchenne stimulated facial muscles with electric currents and identified the muscles around the lips and eyes that have to work together for a genuine smile. That real, spontaneous smile, described in a Scientific American blog, is still known as a Duchenne smile. Another group of volunteers in the new study held chop sticks in their mouths to maintain a forced smile.

With their smiles or neutral expressions firmly in place, the volunteers performed multi-tasking activities which, unbeknownst to them, were designed to induce stress. One test asked participants to trace the path of a moving star that they saw only in a mirror using their non-dominant hand. In another, they had to plunge a hand into a bucket of ice water. Researchers monitored the heart rates of participants during and after these tasks.

All the smiling participants-even those with chop stick holding their up-turned lips-had lower post-stress heart rates than the volunteers with the neutral expressions. The researchers say their findings suggest that smiling during brief periods of distress and adversity may help reduce your body's stress response, even if you're not really happy.

So listen to Nat King Cole singing

Smile though your heart is aching/Smile even though it's breaking/When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by...

Charlie Chaplain wrote the music and John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons wrote the words. Seems they were on to something.

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