The Benefits of Smiling: Seven Reasons Why You Should

It may sound cold, but negative or needy friends make us feel down and stressed. You needn't drop these friends …

Bright smiles are all over the beauty pages, touting our pearly whites as essential to good looks. But it turns out there's more to our smiles than just flashy whites. Psychologists say smiles send out a host of positive signals. Here's what a big grin can do for you:

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INCREASE TRUST. Participants in one study reported to be ten percent more likely to trust another person if they were smiling.

BOOST FORGIVENESS. Research shows we're more lenient with people who have broken the rules if they smile after they've committed the misdeed. It doesn't matter whether it's a false smile, a miserable smile or a real smile, they all work to make us want to give the transgressor a break.

RECOVER FROM SOCIAL BLIPS. Did you forget to buy your partner an anniversary present? Has someone's name slipped your mind? Embarrassed smiles also involve looking down. This combination elicits empathy from other people and studies show they'll think less of the slip and forgive us more quickly.

HEAL HURT. Smiling is one way to reduce the distress caused by an upsetting situation. Psychologists call this the facial feedback hypothesis. Forcing a smile even when we don't feel like it, is enough to lift our mood slightly.

GIVE INSIGHT. Smiling makes us feel good, which also increases our attention and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested by social scientists, the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on tasks that required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees.

BOOSTS ATTRACTION. One study examined how men approached women in a bar. When a woman established only eye contact with a man, she was approached 20% of the time. When the same woman added a smile, she was approached 60% of the time.

ADDS YEARS. Peoplewho smile more may live longer. A study of pictures taken of baseball players in 1952 suggest those smiling outlived their non-smiling counterparts by seven years.

Robin Westen is ThirdAge's medical reporter. Check for her daily updates. Her newest book, co-authored with Dr. Alyssa Dweck, is "V Is For Vagina."

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