You have likely heard the cliche: âIt takes 37 muscles to frown and 22 muscles to smile. So smile. It conserves energy.â
This nugget of homespun wisdom has been with us for decades and in many variations. Some say it takes 33 muscles to frown and 13 to smile. Another says four to grin and 64 to glower. There is even one that says it requires 20 muscles to flash your pearly whites and 317 to knit your brow.
Just one problem: the saying is not true! There is really no way to measure how many muscles frowning or smiling takes because everyone makes these two facial expressions differently.
However, there is some truth that can be gleaned from the saying. Smiling is more important than most realize. In fact, it is integrally tied to the second fruit of Godâs Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23âjoy.
Joy is something you cannot hide. If you are joyful, it will be written on your face. This does not mean you should have a permanent, toothy smile plastered on your face, but it does mean you should be known for being pleasant and happy.
The Greek word translated âjoyâ in the New Testament is charaâthe English word cheer comes from this term. How do you know someone is cheery? By looking at them!
In the Old Testament, we find something similar. The root of the Hebrew word that is often translated âjoyâ can mean âshowing joy.â
The trend is clear: To have joyâto be cheerfulârequires outward evidence such as a smile. If you have been told you often look glum, or have noticed it in yourself, you can make a change. Ask God to help you see areas in your life where you can improve.
Yet just as smiling can help indicate that you are filled with joy, it can also help you increase it.
Scientists have studied smiling, and its effects are impressive.
In a 2012 study published in the journal Psychological Science, University of Kansas scientists found that smiling can help relieve stress.
HuffPost reported that the researchers âstudied 170 participants who were told to hold chopsticks in their mouths in three formations, making them smile to various degrees without realizing it, after performing a stressful task. The experiment revealed that subjects who smiled the biggest with the chopsticks experienced a substantial reduction in heart rate and quicker stress recovery compared to those whose expressions remained neutral.â
The strange thing about all of this is that even a forced smile can bring emotional benefits.
It is thought that using the group of muscles needed to grin can help trigger a more positive attitude.
One researcher told Scientific American: âIt would appear that the way we feel emotions isnât just restricted to our brainâthere are parts of our bodies that help and reinforce the feelings weâre havingâ¦like a feedback loop.â
So if you are new to smiling more often, keep reminding yourself to do so. If you find yourself in a bad mood or hectic situationâa smile can be all it takes to start to turn things around.
Science shows that your overall demeanor is a habit. Once again, the Bible aligns perfectly with this. To build godly happiness, you must work at it.
James 1:2 tells you to âcount it all joy when you fall into diverse temptations.â
The reason the apostle James had to state that we should be joyful in the face of all temptations is simple: It is not natural!
When physical and spiritual trials come upon us, the natural reaction is to become sad, overwhelmed and foul-tempered. While our brains naturally go to the negative, the habitual act of smiling helps the mind move to a more positive space and remain there longer the more you do it.
According to Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage, by making smiling a part of our everyday practice, we help our brains create happiness loops that encourage more positive-thinking patterns.
âHappiness is a work ethic,â wrote Mr. Achor. âItâs something that requires our brains to train just like an athlete has to train.â
Determine to make happiness a habit no matter what life throws at you. Ask God to help you develop more of the spiritual fruit of joy. And remember to use smiling as your secret weapon.