Smiling makes people happier

Laughing girl with daisy in her hairs, showing thumbs up.

Want to feel happier, try smiling. Smiling really can make people feel happier, say researchers at the University of Tennessee, in the United States who have looked at nearly 50 years of data testing whether facial expressions can lead people to feel the emotions related to those expressions.

Conventional wisdom tells us that we can feel a little happier if we simply smile. Or that we can get ourselves in a more serious mood if we scowl. But psychologists have actually disagreed about this idea for over 100 years.

These disagreements became more pronounced in 2016, when 17 teams of researchers failed to replicate a well-known experiment demonstrating that the physical act of smiling can make people feel happier.

For the new study, scientists used a statistical technique called meta-analysis, that combined data from 138 studies testing more than 11,000 participants from all around the world. According to the results of the meta-analysis, facial expressions have a small impact on feelings. For example, smiling makes people feel happier, scowling makes them feel angrier, and frowning makes them feel sadder.

“We don’t think that people can smile their way to happiness,” said the researchers, “but our findings are exciting because they provide a clue about how the mind and the body interact to shape our conscious experience of emotion. We still have a lot to learn about these facial feedback effects, but this meta-analysis put us a little closer to understanding how emotions work.”