Smile…Our Muscles Remember

laughingI attended a workshop a while back that had a powerful affect upon the level of happiness in my life. I wish I could remember the name of the woman (a marriage and family therapist) who conducted the workshop, but I cannot. Among the things she taught was how the power of laughter is a great medicine (see also Proverbs 17:22). I remember how she gave each of us a small pencil and asked us to put it in our mouths, biting on it, for a minute or so. We talked about how we felt after the exercise…we felt better when we were smiling and once we had been smiling for a while, we wanted to smile more. She then talked about muscle memory (I’d love to know the science behind this phenomenon) and how when our facial muscles are told to smile, our brains tell the rest of the body “the face is happy…the rest of us should be happy too.” Our body chemistry then changes to match the expression on our face.

I was in the temple on Friday evening. One of the Ordinance Workers was just plain beautiful. There was something about her that was radiant and I was drawn to her. After watching her for a while, I noticed that she smiled the WHOLE time. She had a happy, smiling face…her mouth, her eyes, her forehead, her cheeks…everything smiled. Because she was smiling, the rest of her was radiant and she appeared confident and content. I loved it! It made me think about my face. No, I don’t smile all the time; in fact, I probably have a crusty face on most of the time (unintentionally, of course). But I should smile more because I would like to be beautiful and radiant just like this Ordinance Worker. I wish it would have been appropriate to ask her what made her so happy, but it wasn’t, so I didn’t. But I will be forever curious about her.

In the September 2007 edition of the Ensign, Gary Palmer (Teaching Professor of Recreation Management and Youth Leadership at Brigham Young University) wrote an article about the power of laughter and a smile…

“Studies show that humor and laughter help people live longer, happier lives; be more creative and productive; and have more energy with less physical discomfort.1 Humor reduces stress, fear, intimidation, embarrassment, and anger.2 Laughter also has extraordinary healing power.3 When a person laughs, blood pressure decreases, heart rate and respiration increase, the body releases endorphins, and depression declines.4 After the laughter subsides and you relax again, that good feeling has a lasting effect, even until the next day.5 Not many medicines will do that.

“On average, children laugh 400 times a day, while adults laugh about 15 times.6 Why the gap? Did we lose something? Have we forgotten the way we used to be? Why is it that children seem to cope with life’s oddities better than adults? Perhaps it’s because they do not fully understand. But I think it’s simpler than that—they laugh. As we grow older, we get far too serious. Watch children play. They don’t need expensive toys to entertain them. Everything is fun. They are spontaneous. Only when we become adults do we start to get boring. Do we need to cultivate a different attitude? Humor is in the way we see things, the way we think. It’s an attitude, not an event. Perhaps the key lies in becoming more childlike.”

Not only do smiling and laughing make us look better and more approachable, they make us feel better–they make us better…period. It takes a lot to make me laugh out loud. But, when I do…boy, does it feel good. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to feel that good every day? For today, I am going to start with a smile…I am going to be more conscious of my facial expression and its power to help my body feel happier.

For more of Brother Palmer’s article, click here.

1. See R. Robinson, D. N. Khansari, A. J. Murgo, and R. E. Faith, “How Laughter Affects Your Health: Effects of Stress on the Immune System,” Immunology Today 11, no. 5 (1990), 170–75.
2. See W. S. Hamerslough, “Laughter and Wellness” (paper presented to the Southwest District of AAHPERD, June 22, 1995, Kahuku, Hawaii).
3. See N. Cousins, Anatomy of an Illness (1979).
4. See L. S. Berk, “Neuroendocrine and Stress Hormone Changes during Mirthful Laughter,” American Journal of the Medical Sciences 296, no. 7 (1989), 390–96.
5. See K. S. Peterson, “A Chuckle a Day Does Indeed Help Keep Ills at Bay,” USA Today, Oct. 31, 1996, p. 10D; see also Berk, American Journal of the Medical Sciences 296, no. 7, 390–96.
6. See Robinson, “How Laughter Affects Your Health.”

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