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Smiling really can make you feel happier, research shows

A team of researchers led by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT) has found evidence to support the theory that the simple act of smiling can make people feel happier. The experts analyzed nearly 50 years of data on how facial expressions affect our emotions.

“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,” said study lead author Nicholas Coles, who is a PhD student in Social Psychology at UT. “But psychologists have actually disagreed about this idea for over 100 years.”

The debate heated up in 2016, when 17 research teams were unable to replicate the results of a well-known experiment showing that smiling can trigger happy feelings.

“Some studies have not found evidence that facial expressions can influence emotional feelings,” said Coles. “But we can’t focus on the results of any one study. Psychologists have been testing this idea since the early 1970s, so we wanted to look at all the evidence.”

The researchers used a statistical technique called meta-analysis to examine the results of 138 studies involving more than 11,000 participants from around the globe. The study revealed that facial expressions have a small, yet significant, impact on feelings.

According to the meta-analysis, just as smiling makes people feel happier, scowling makes them feel angrier or frowning makes them feel sadder.

“We don’t think that people can smile their way to happiness,” said Coles. “But these 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.”

The study is published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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