Do you want to live longer? Put on a happy face!

That’s the takeaway from a Wayne State University study in which researchers evaluated the smiles of 230 Major League Baseball players from the 1952 player register using their baseball cards, according to the New York Daily News.

Researchers categorized the players into three groups: no smile, partial smile and the Duchenne smile, which is viewed as the most authentic smile because it involves voluntary and involuntary muscle contractions from the muscles that affect the corners of the mouth, the cheeks and the crow’s feet area around the eyes. This is what they found:

  • The average life expectancy of the non-smilers was 72.9 years old
  • Partial smilers lived to be 75 years old on average
  • Duchenne smilers reached an average age of 79.9 years

Scientists have discovered that a person’s smile can predict more than longevity, but also marital happiness and personal well-being.

Psychological scientists LeeAnne Harker and Dacher Keltner used the Facial Action Coding System developed in the 1970s by psychologists Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen to evaluate women’s college yearbook photos. Harker and Keltner, of the University of California at Berkeley, paired the smile ratings with personality data collected during a 30-year longitudinal study, according to the Association for Psychological Science publication Observer. They found that women with Duchenne smiles in their yearbook photos “had greater levels of general well-being and marital satisfaction at age 52.”

Another study, published in a 2009 issue of Motivation and Emotion identified a correlation between low-intensity smiles in youth and divorce later in life.

It appears that smiling also can help you in times of grief. Keltner and George Bonanno of Catholic University once studied the facial expressions of widows and widowers who had recently lost their spouses, and they identified lower distress levels in those who displayed “Duchenne laughter” during discussions about their losses, compared to those who didn’t, according to the Observer article.

This is interesting information for someone who’s in the smile business, and all of this information about the Duchenne smile in particular got me thinking. I see new patients weekly who don’t want to show their teeth when they smile because they’re embarrassed about how they look. As an orthodontist, I’ve seen time and again how those types of patients come out of their shells throughout treatment and how willing they are to flash their smile once those braces or Invisalign aligners come off for the last time. Who knows … maybe some researcher out there will study orthodontic patients and their smiles some day and discover that treatment encourages more Duchenne smiles. Anecdotally, I certainly feel like that’s the case.

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