5 Things Buddy The Elf (& Science) Can Teach Us About Smiling

The Challenge: We are all looking for love, a longer life, and less stress.
The Science: There is one easy thing to do proven to yield all these results.
The Solution: Learn a lesson from Buddy the Elf and make smiling your favorite.

In the movie Elf, Will Ferrell plays Buddy, one of Santa’s helpers who is trying to uncover his true identity as a human by traveling from the North Pole to New York City to meet his biological father.

One thing makes Buddy stand out in the cynical world of the big city…he is always smiling.

Buddy says that smiling is his favorite. Research says that maybe Buddy is on to something. Here are 5 reasons why…

1. Smiling helps you get the girl (or guy)

Shortly into his time in the Big Apple, Buddy falls for a co-worker named Jovie. Despite being a goofy, oversized, middle-aged man who wears tights and shoes with curled-up toes, Buddy gets the girl. Buddy had the help of Hollywood writers to make sure Jovie fell for him, but he also had another secret weapon: his smile.

A study published by the American Psychological Association shows that smiling makes you more attractive to others because it stimulates the part of the brain associated with sensory rewards. Basically, this means that there are parts of our noggin that are simply drawn to a beaming grin. Flashing a smile at the opposite sex will help you seem more approachable and make you more likely to land a date.

2. Smiling will add a few years to your life

Spoiler alert…Buddy lives throughout the entire movie. Even though he is attacked by a best-selling children’s writer and nearly run over by Santa’s sleigh, Buddy survives to see another successful Christmas. The movie ends with Buddy starting a family of his own, and if science is right, the goofy elf will grow old enough to become a goofy octogenarian.

A 2010 study examined the smile intensity found on the photos of 250 baseball cards from the 1952 MLB season to see if there was any correlation with the lifespan of the players. Researchers labeled players’ baseball card photos as either a full smile, a partial smile, or no smile at all.

The results were astonishing. The average lifespan for players who didn’t smile during their baseball card photo was 73 years old. Players who gave a partial smile on their baseball cards lived an average of 75 years. Finally, those players who flashed a full gleaming smile lived, on average, to be 80 years old.

3. Fake it til you make it

Thanks to a boatload of Holiday cheer mixed with gallons of syrup, Buddy the Elf never has to fake a smile. It just comes naturally.

But research shows that if there ever was a time that Buddy didn’t feel like smiling, he should just fake it and pretend to smile.

In a 1988 study, researchers told participants to hold a pencil in their mouth using their lips only or their teeth only while rating the degree of humor in various cartoons. Holding the pencil with their teeth would contract their zygomaticus major, which would mimic a smile. Holding the pencil with their lips would create a frowning motion.

Researchers found that participants with forced smiles rated the cartoons as more humorous than the group that was forced to frown. Just pretending to smile makes life a little funnier.

4. We’ve been smiling long before we were born

As previously stated, smiling is Buddy’s favorite thing in the world. You would expect that he has been smiling since the day he was born.

Actually, science says that he was smiling long before that. A BBC News article from 2003 shows that ultrasound scanning has allowed doctors to see that babies in the womb can smile, cry, and blink.

Professor Stuart Campbell used a revolutionary 4D scanner to capture images of babies smiling. “What’s behind the smile? of course, I can’t say,” said Campbell. “But the corners turn up, and the cheeks bulge … I think it must be some indication of contentment in a stress-free environment.”

5. Keep calm and carry on (with a smile)

Throughout Buddy’s time in New York City, there are many stressful moments. The anticipation of meeting his real father. The reality of being rejected and thrown out on the street by said father. The anxiety of having to fix Santa’s sleigh on Christmas night.

Guess how Buddy was still able to carry on, even through all that stress? His smile. (If you didn’t get that correct, then you haven’t been paying attention)

study by doctoral student Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman, Ph.D., of the University of Kansas, examined the benefits of smiling as related to our ability to recover from stress. They divided 169 participants from a Midwestern university into three groups and trained each group to hold a different facial expression.

Participants were instructed to hold chopsticks in their mouths in such a way that they engaged facial muscles used to create a neutral facial expression, a standard smile, or a big smile. The groups were then forced into stress-inducing tasks such as tracing a star with their non-dominant hand by looking at a reflection of the star in a mirror.

The researchers measured participants’ heart rates and self-reported stress levels and found that participants who were instructed to smile had lower heart rate levels after recovery from the stressful activities. The study showed that smiling during periods of anxiety can help reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy.

So whether you want to find a mate, live longer, or recover from stress, you should follow the lead of Buddy the Elf and smile. Don’t worry, you have been smiling since before you can remember, so it should come easy. And if it doesn’t, just fake it.

Adam Baker
Adam Baker is an Arizona native who graduated from Arizona State University and first wrote a published book at age 3. The story was titled Batman & Ghostbusters and by published we mean that his mom stapled a few pages together and called it a book. This helped create a love for writing which inspired him to create the Maury C. Moose Children's Book Series.
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