A little smile can go a long way

Mr Neo Poh Goon is a practitioner of the kampung spirit ("Being a good neighbour begins with a smile"; Jan 11).

It seems that the more we smile and say hello, the easier it becomes, and the better we and others feel.

Studies have shown a person is strongly influenced by the emotion his facial expression is communicating - be it positive emotions (smiling) or negative ones (frowning).

There are studies which show that smiling reduces stress. In 2012, psychologists at the University of Kansas studied 170 participants who were told to hold chopsticks in their mouths in three formations after performing a stressful task.

Each formation caused them to smile to various degrees without realising it. They found that subjects who smiled the widest experienced a substantial reduction in heart rate and quicker stress recovery, compared to those whose expressions remained neutral.

More than ridding the body of stress, smiling can release tension on a cellular level as well.

In her book, Secrets Of Your Cells, biochemist Sondra Barrett explains how cells can distinguish between safety and danger, find and repair problems, and create an overall sense of balance within the body.

Evidently, a person's thoughts have a direct effect on cell function.

When we smile, we reduce the rigidness of our cells, and this physical relaxation can help combat the risk of stress-induced cell mutations that can lead to the growth of cancer cells.

Beyond the physical benefits, smiling also promotes social health.

In a 2014 study, researchers found that authentic smiles shared by employees influenced their impressions on customers in a positive way. Employees who smile came across as more likeable and friendly, and customers who interacted with them felt more satisfied about their overall experience.

Smiles are free. Let us all try smiling and bring back the kampung spirit.

William Wan (Dr)

General Secretary

Singapore Kindness Movement

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2017, with the headline 'A little smile can go a long way'. Print Edition | Subscribe