What came first, the happy or the smile?
Charles Darwin wanted to know. He proposed a theory that facial expressions don’t just reflect one’s emotions, they may in fact cause them. In 1862, a neurologist named Guillaume Duchenne took up Darwin’s challenge and tried to find a connection between the act of smiling and the feeling of happiness. He isolated and examined the facial muscles one uses while smiling, and noted the differences between an authentic smile (for example, the downturn in the outer edges of the eye) and a “forced” one. Though he never found a scientific link between smiling and happiness, he set the benchmark for further study; modern neurologists refer to a “Duchenne smile” as one which appears genuine.
Scientists wrestled with the problem for a century with no success. Then, in 1989, Stanford psychologist Robert Zajonc reported that, when test subjects were asked to pronounce the long letter “E” (unknowingly mimicking a smile) and then pronounce the long letter “U” (a pout), they felt better after the “E” and worse after the “U.” Other studies involving simulated smiles reinforced Zajonc’s conclusion. Conversely, subjects who only looked at other people smiling felt no better. So how does the mere ACT of smiling make one feel better? Zajonc hypothesizes that, when one smiles, the tension in the facial muscles constricts the carotid artery, reducing the amount of blood going to the brain. This cools the brain, and doctors have long known that “a cool brain is a happy brain.”
Do you buy it? Can you really force your face to make you feel happy? Who knows, but these days we can all use whatever help we can get. So, as marketers, we recommend you consider the following this weekend: Have a Coke and a Smile. Grab a McDonald’s Happy Meal and Put a Smile On. Remember, There’s a Smile in Every Hershey Bar.
By Monday, you’ll be fat and diabetic, but scientists project you’ll probably be OK with that.