This seemed appropriate for today, given it’s my birthday. A new study finds a correlation between smiling in photos and longevity. The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, looked at photos of Major League Baseball players taken prior to 1950, and correlated smile type (none, partial, and full or Duchenne) with years of life. A player with a Duchenne smile was half as likely to die in a given year as a non-smiler, suggesting a clear potential longevity advantage.
In their interpretation, the study’s authors suggest that smile size is indicative of an underlying emotional condition, which in turn reflects general health and well-being. They write:
A growing body of research has shown that basic emotional conditions, such as happiness and sadness, generate differentially patterned autonomic responses (Ekman et al., 1983; Levenson et al.,1990), which influence physical and mental well-being and longevity (Danner, Snowdon, & Friesen, 2001; Maruta, Colligan, Malinchoc, & Offord, 2000; Peterson, Seligman, & Valliant, 1988). To the extent that smile intensity reflects an underlying emotional disposition (Ekman & Friesen, 1978), the results of this study are congruent with those of other studies demonstrating that emotions have a positive relationship with mental health, physical health, and longevity.
I also think there’s a counter-loop here, where joyful moments make us smile more, and the autonomic responses triggered by those moments create physical conditions that are favorable to well-being. People who naturally smile more may find an easy road to a long, happy life, but is it possible that consciously bringing more smile-worthy moments into your life can impact longevity? I don’t know, but there’s a wonderful thing about this question — it certainly can’t hurt to try.
As a side note, I’d be curious to see how a study like this would work in a country where smiles are notably muted or repressed due to social convention — such as Japan, a place well-known for longevity.
Image: me + my best friend Annie as kids, Duchenne smiles in full display