Rob Buckingham's Blog

Grin and Bear It

The saying originates from the 1700s and began as an expression used by sailors after a long spell of bad weather. 

Just grin and bear it! At some point, we’ve all probably heard or thought something like this when facing a tough situation.  But is there any truth to this piece of advice?  Feeling good usually makes us smile, but does it work the other way around?  Can smiling actually make us feel better?  The answer is “yes.”

A study at the University of Kansas recently investigated the potential benefits of smiling to help people recover from stress.

Smiles are generally divided into two categories: standard smiles, which use the muscles surrounding the mouth, and genuine or Duchenne smiles, which engage the muscles surrounding both the mouth and eyes.  The researchers asked people to maintain a neutral face, a forced smile or a genuine smile in which both eye and mouth muscles were engaged, as they performed stressful psychological and physical tasks. 

The results of the study suggest that smiling may actually influence our physical state: compared to participants who held neutral facial expressions, participants who were instructed to smile, and in particular those with Duchenne smiles, had lower heart rate levels after recovery from the stressful activities.  These findings show that smiling during difficult times can help to reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy.

What the researchers at the University of Kansas discovered was written in the Bible 3000 years ago: "A cheerful heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit makes one sick" (Proverbs 17:22).  Sometimes we don’t want to “grin and bear it” because we feel that we’re not being honest or transparent, but the Bible encourages us to engage our will in order to practice joy even when we don’t feel like it – "This is the day that the Lord has made, I WILL rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118:24).  When we do this we invariably find that joyful feelings follow.

So, the next time you’re stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile.  Not only will it help you “grin and bear it” psychologically, but it might actually help reduce your stress levels and fill your heart with joy!

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