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Happiness strategy #1: SMILE :)

What are the zygomatic major and the orbiculares oculi? They are powerful weapons that we can use to improve our mood, almost instantly! The zygomatic major is the muscle that raises the corners of our mouth into a smile. Smiling only with the mouth, however, can look fake or can hide less positive emotions. But when you also engage the orbiculares oculi, the muscles that pull your eyes into a squint, creating wrinkles around the outside edges of the eyes, the resulting smile is an indication of authentic joy. This more genuine smile, the Duchenne smile, named after the researcher who studied it, is a powerful tool in your happiness arsenal.

Smiling releases seratonin, a brain chemical that has an antidepressant effect. Even if we feel quite miserable, we can give ourselves a boost by smiling. But if you really want to feel happy, the Duchenne smile packs a powerful punch, sparking even more brain activity that can almost guarantee a significantly increased sense of well-being and pleasure.

In fact, researchers have determined that 95% of people who use the Duchenne smile experience authentic happiness. A landmark study confirmed the powerful link between smiling and life satisfaction. The researchers analyzed the yearbook pictures of 111 smiling women at age 21, fifty of whom displayed Duchenne smiles. Follow-up with the women found that participants expressing genuine positive emotions in their yearbook picture experienced higher life satisfaction and a greater sense of well-being than their classmates who engaged only the zygomatic major.

An additional bonus is that smiling is infectious. When you smile at people, it makes you look warm and friendly...and happy. People like happy people, so they are likely to smile in return, making you feel even better.

My prescription for instant happiness? Try it now. It takes only a minute. Fully engage both groups of muscles. Try to look genuinely happy, even if you're not. Interestingly, it is really hard to feel sad or angry while smiling. Warning: overuse of these muscles may result in stiffness in the cheek area and an increased sense of well-being.

To learn more about how to increase your happiness, register for my happiness group, beginning March 2.

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