Countless studies have shown that emotions have a positive relationship with mental health, physical health and longevity. This is nothing new and these findings have been replicated in a multitude of studies. However, I recently came across an incredible study involving baseball cards that I thought was more than appropriate to share with you all (or y’all, depending where you are reading from), especially since we are in the middle of baseball season. Previous studies have found that smiling in childhood photographs is predictive of marriage stability, career successes, happiness levels and many other desirable outcomes. In a 2010 study, researchers analyzed 250 baseball card photographs from the 1952 MLB season.
This study focused primarily on two things: smile intensity and longevity.
The researchers chose to examine the smile intensity of players’ cards due to the premise that the authenticity of our smiles conveys the depth of our positive emotions. They believed that smiles were reflective of the individual’s contentment. Thus, those whom smiled the most intensely were likely to be the most satisfied and happiest, and vice versa. Researchers labeled players’ baseball card photos either as no smile, partial smile or full (Duchenne) smile and then analyzed the data to see if smile intensity was correlated with the life span of the players. The findings were shocking!
Smiling, even partially, led to a statistically significant increase in lifespan, ranging from at least two to seven additional years.
The average lifespan for players who weren’t having a good day and didn’t smile in their baseball card was 73 years old. Those who weren’t sure if the glass was half-full or half-empty and flashed a partial smile on their baseball card, lived an average of 75 years. And those players who revealed the entirety of their pearly whites, displaying a Duchenne smile, lived on average to be 80 years old! A whopping seven additional years when compared to those who didn’t smile in their photo!
Before you go rummaging through all of your childhood photos and athletic mugshots to determine your projected lifespan, let’s clarify a few things. As we have learned in statistics class or science class or any other data analysis class – correlation does not equal causation. Smiling in these baseball cards obviously did not directly cause these players to live two to seven years longer than the others. However, the fact that these players were smiling was statistically significant in regards to longevity and the findings of this study were in accordance with prior research. According to the researchers, “Individuals whose underlying emotional disposition is reflected in voluntary or involuntary Duchenne smiles may be basically happier than those with less intense smiles, and hence more predisposed to benefit from the effects of positive emotionality”. What we should take away from this study is that smiling and doing the sorts of things that positive psychologists have shown to produce lasting happiness might be beneficial.
While smiling is often the result of someone who is happy and content, science has also found that we can manipulate our emotions and happiness levels, simply by forcing ourselves to smile. There is a super-awesome phenomenon known as the facial feedback hypothesis which suggests that our facial expressions (such as smiling) can affect our emotions.
In a 1988 study, one group of participants was instructed to hold a pencil between their teeth, which forced them to smile, while rating the degree of humor in various cartoons. The other group of participants were instructed to do the same while holding the pencil in their lips, which resulted in a forced frown. Researchers hypothesized that those participants with forced smiles would rate the cartoons as more humorous than the other group. And they were right. Further, more recent research has found that smiling during brief periods of stress may help reduce the body’s stress response, regardless of whether the person actually feels happy or not.
In conclusion, based on the previous awesome and exciting research:
- smile intensity is statistically significant in regards to longevity
- smiling most likely will add a few years to our lives, for one reason or another
- if we are not currently, forcing ourselves to smile can enhance our mood and happiness levels
- smiling during times of stress may reduce our anxiety and be beneficial for us
So keep smiling. You will be glad you did. If you’re not currently happy, “fake it ’til you make it” and smile anyways. You will more than likely increase your happiness levels and improve your mood.