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09 Nov 2023

Smile Power

Laughing and Smiling

How simple acts of kindness help New Zealand in the battle against pandemics. 

One of the urgings associated with New Zealand reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic was the request to be kind. To oneself and to one another. For yourself, family, whanau or even complete strangers.

The reason being that a smile is among the greatest expressions of kindness. One of the greatest expressions of kindness is to smile.  In supermarkets, in communities, in hospitals, in rest homes, and out on a quiet walk in the neighbourhood, people were urged to make time for a smile. 

Little wonder that the mantra of the movement Random Acts of Kindness is simply: making someone smile if only for a moment. 

Making a difference is another manifestation of kindness. Expressed by:

  • Checking in on older relatives or vulnerable people over the phone, to make sure they have everything they need.
  • Talking to friends, whānau and neighbours over the phone to see how they are and if they need support.
  • Acknowledging the support, you receive from those who care for, and about, you with a smile of thanks.   

Hoisting a few facial muscles takes little energy but lights up the world in many ways. The act of smiling, one of the most instinctive and simple of expressions, can have personal benefit as well. Including:  ​

  • Improved Mood. Smiling can boost your mood when you're feeling blue and may be beneficial for people struggling with anxiety and depression.
  • Lower Blood Pressure.
  • Stress Relief.
  • Better Relationships.
  • Stronger Immune Function.
  • Pain Relief.
  • Longer Life. Smiling not only offers a mood boost but helps our bodies release cortisol and endorphins that provide numerous health benefits, including reduced blood pressure. Increased endurance and reduced pain.
  • The amount of energy that people spend frowning extends far past how many muscles it takes to form a frown. Worry, fear, anxiety and a plethora of negative emotions take their toll on a person because they're things that people find necessary.
  • A smile offers a natural lift to the face. With full set of pearly whites, a smile helps the wearer look younger and happier. As it reduces stress and the risk of detrimental health disorders, it not only gives you the chance to look younger but offers people the chance for longer, healthier lives. It takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown. 

Astonishing powers 

In Smile, The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act, Stanford University adjunct professor and author Ron Gutman highlights a range of benefits reaped by smilers including deeper social relationships, longer lives and better mental and physical health.

Rather than being a trigger of reaction what lies behind this simple reaction is much more complex. According to researchers, there’s a taxonomy of 19 different smiles - yet only six represent happiness. Smiles can also be produced by embarrassment, contempt or even rage.

Researcher Paul Ekman concurs. As one of the leading experts into emotions and facial expressions believes many smiles, rather than a ubiquitous manifestation of joy, are about transmitting specific messages. The compliance smile and listener response smile perform very particular functions.

Ekman also noted the “felt smile, fearful smile, dampened smile and flirtatious smile.” In short every emotion can be filtered through that widening and upturning of the lips we call a smile.

Rather than complicate the joy of smiling it is important to remember the song performed by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Louis Armstrong. “When you smile, the whole world smiles with you.”   


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Published.  April 2020

Reviewed: September 2022

To be reviewed: September 2025