3000 years ago King Solomon wrote:
A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)
A joyful heart makes a cheerful face,
But when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken. (Proverbs 15:13)
Solomon was a people watcher. He knew the power of cheerfulness. But as science has enabled us to conduct more detailed studies we are discovering more about the power of a smiling face.
After writing last month's post on happiness with its supporting cast of Puritans and their successors, I came across a fascinating TED talk by Ron Gutman entitled “The Hidden Power of Smiling”. Gutman recaps some of his investigations into the power of the smile.
Let me give you some of his insights:
- A 30-year study examined the photos of students in school yearbooks and tried to measure their success and well-being throughout their life. By measuring the students' smiles, researchers were able to predict how fulfilling and long-lasting a subject's marriage would be, how well they would score on tests of well-being, and how inspiring they would be to others.
- Another project looked into players’ pictures on baseball cards. They found that the span of a player's smile could predict the span of his life. Players who didn't smile in their pictures lived an average of only 72.9 years, where players with beaming smiles lived an average of almost 80 years.
- Using 3D ultrasound technology, we can now see that developing babies appear to smile, even in the womb. When they're born, they continue to smile. And even blind babies smile to the sound of the human voice.
- And it’s not just that a smile expresses the inner feelings. The act of smiling can help change our feelings. Smiling stimulates our brain reward mechanism in a way that even chocolate cannot match. British researchers found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.
- It reduces the level of stress-enhancing hormones like adrenaline and dopamine, and increases the level of mood-enhancing hormones like endorphins, and reduces overall blood pressure.
I find all this fascinating. Happiness seems to be hard-wired into us. We are designed to smile, and made for joy. We are born that way, live longer that way, and prosper that way. And that’s exactly what the Bible says—we are made for joy. God is, in his three-fold existence, uniquely joy-filled. We are made by Him to know Him, and in knowing Him to enjoy joy.
Yet this world in which we live is a world of suffering and brokenness, of doing wrong and being wronged. Sometimes it doesn’t seem as if there is much to smile about.
Yet that’s precisely why God stepped into time and geography—to do what was needed to bring lasting joy. That’s why the angels announced at the birth of Jesus, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)
The key to a joy that lasts, and a smile that can be there amidst the pain and hurt of this life, is to know the one the angels spoke of—the Joy-bringer—Jesus. He would be the Man of Sorrows, so that we could be people of joy.
We are designed to smile; and redeemed to smile!