Get this… a study just published in Psychological Science Online First by a team out of Detroit’s Wayne State University has an interesting, if unexpected, hint on living longer – your smile. That is… the bigger your smile, the longer you tend to live.
Facial expressions are known to be a way to judge emotions… to make a guess at who’s happier and has a more stable personality which is why the researchers examined the photos of 230 Major League Baseball players who started their careers before 1950. Other information that is known to affect longevity had been tracked as part of a longstanding database on the players, things like if they’d gone to college, if they were married, the year of their birth and their body mass index.
Reviewers, who didn’t know the purpose of the study, were asked to rate the player’s smiles on a scale of 1 to 3. One was no smile at all, two was a partial smile, and three was the broad, full smile, the type that crinkles the eyes and makes the face come alive. Those with the most visible smiles had what is known as a Duchenne smile, named for the French neurologist who discovered it. The cheeks and corners of the mouth are up, and some crows-feet wrinkles show up around the eyes.
As of June 1, 2009 all but 46 of the photographed players had died, so the researchers at Wayne looked back to see if smile intensity in pictures was linked to longer life. And it was.
Even after the researchers controlled for variables like marital status, the year of birth and body mass index, the smile-longevity link still held true. The players with the biggest smiles were half as likely to die in a year than those who did not smile.
But, what if you just hate taking pictures? Experts believe this wouldn’t affect the results since there are camera-haters in both happy and unhappy people.
On average, the nonsmilers lived 72.9 years. The partial smilers made it to their 75th birthday. The big smiles brought more years, 79.9 was the life expectancy here.
“People who had the most intense smiles lived the longest, compared to the other two,” explains Ernest L. Abel, a professor at Wayne State. A few examples… Bill Kennedy, a nonsmiler who played for Cincinnati (and other teams) died at 62; Ted Williams who played for Boston was a big smiler, and died at 83.
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Bigger Smiles Mean Longer Lives… Continued…
Stop and think about this.
It is really hard to fake an intense smile, which is the nugget of truth that underlies the thinking of the researchers conducting this study. A more intense smile is a simple demonstration of profound happiness… a more positive mind-set.
Earlier work has linked smile intensity in childhood and college yearbook pictures with later life satisfaction or marriage stability. This makes sense according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, as well as (who knew they had these?) a happiness researcher and author of The How of Happiness. “Most likely, the smiles are an indicator of the baseball players’ dispositions.”
Science does know that those who are happier tend to live longer, and while there is no cause-and-effect evidence, there is solid support for the idea that happiness… simple joy in life does predispose people to living longer. Probably better too.