Smiling reduces stress and pain.

I have told many audiences that smiling is the quickest way to reduce stress. I use the example of sitting several cars back at a red light. You know that the stoplight at this intersection recycles quickly. If the first car moves when the light turns green, you should make the light easily.

However, the light turns green and the first car does not move. After a couple of seconds, you hear someone honk their horn, and then the first car moves through the intersection. Maybe another car or two gets through, but you missed the green light and must wait through the entire cycle again.

If you are behind schedule, your stress levels increase automatically. And they will stay that way for a while. However, if you smile as the light turned red and keep smiling for another twenty or thirty seconds, the stress levels reduce significantly. It does not matter whether the smile is real or fake.

I found an article today that uses a similar technique to counter the pain associated with an impending inoculation.

The Smile and Needle Study Many, even most people have an aversion to the pain of a shot needle. It may not hurt, but the dislike is there. We remember the pain from previous shots and believe that the pending shot will be no different.

I remember, as a kid, getting shots to go to Panama. Both arms hurt for days. I also remember getting way too many shots in the military, and most of those were not bad. Minor discomfort for a day and that was about it. However, most of us do not get shots all the time. Maybe once a year for a flu shot and that is about it.

With the pandemic vaccination rollout, a study was proposed to determine if a smile can reduce or eliminate the pain associated with a needle puncture. The study proposed four different facial expressions. A Duchenne smile, a non-Duchenne smile, a grimace, and neutral facial expressions were used.


A Duchenne smile is the smile obtained when a person is feeling total joy. The zygomaticus major muscle lifts the corners of your mouth at the same time the orbicularis oculi muscles lift and cheeks while your eyes crinkle at the corners.

To achieve the same kind of facial expression with each person, a chopstick was placed in the mouth. To achieve a neutral expression, the chopstick was held by the tip end by the front teeth. A non-Duchenne smile was gained by placing the chopstick in the neutral position at the tip of the teeth but smiling at the same time with just the mouth by raising your lips.

The Duchenne smile is seen when the chopstick is placed lengthwise across the mouth as you bite into it. The resultant facial expressions are close, and all the participants had roughly the same facial expression. The grimace involved having two chopsticks placed lengthwise across the mouth and the participant bit down onto the two chopsticks. See for photos of each.

Results Facial feedback has been studied over the years to assess emotional experiences. The researchers were most interested in the effects of facial manipulations and the perception of pain.

A total of 231 participants received a shot of saline solution administered as if it were a vaccination. The Duchenne smile group, the non-Duchenne smile group, the grimace group, and the neutral face group were given a questionnaire before and six minutes after the shot to evaluate their emotional experience. Each of the participants was connected to an electrocardiogram to measure heart rate, psychological, and physiological responses on the skin.

The Duchenne and grimace group felt 40% less needle pain compared to the neutral group. The Duchenne group, non-Duchenne group, and grimace group had lower heart rates than the neutral group. The final assessment stated that there were marginal benefits for the Duchenne group overall. However, a grimace or a Duchenne smile lowers the pain experienced from a vaccination needle.


The pain study showed that smiling can reduce some pain or sense of pain. It also showed that smiling helps in other stressful situations like getting stuck behind slow cars at a red light. It can reduce the stress-induced physiological responses of the body.

I look at it more simply. We cannot have positive and negative thoughts in our brains at the same time. Our brains automatically signal our facial muscles. When we are sad, our faces show this emotion. The same with being happy. What happens when you force your facial muscles back to the brain. The neutral or negative feeling in the brain is overrun by muscles telling the brain the opposite is occurring.

I have used this extensively when dealing with the deaths of friends and family over the years. The instant memory triggers a temporary facial expression of sadness and loss. I immediately smile and think of something wonderful about that person and allow my brain to become inculcated with a new emotion over the loss of that person.

Try it. It might work for you, whether it is a shot needle or the death or illness of a beloved friend or family member. It does take months and even longer to cancel the emotional avalanche of emotion to someone really close to you. But the temporary feeling is abated within seconds.

Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin –



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