There is healing power in the medicine of laughter and play. Living with stress, feeling uptight, being worried, not sleeping, and thinking limiting thoughts, kill the joy in your life—as well as your health and wellbeing.

One of the best anti-stress medicines we have is free, has no negative side effects and you can take as much as you want. But the likelihood is you aren’t taking enough. Smiling, playing and laughing have been described as taking an “internal jog,” massaging your inner organs and giving them a workout. That’s got to be healthy for you!

How frequently do you laugh? How often do you smile? How often do you play? Research has found that four-year-old children smile and laugh about 400 times a day while for adults, smiles and laughter decrease to only 14 times a day. What’s going on?
One of the best ways to smile more often is to PLAY more often. While there are many theoretical and scientific definitions of play, I frankly like mine the best. When play has the following four ingredients, it’s likely to put a smile on your face and in your heart. The purposeless, fun, pleasurable act of playing is vital for healthy relationships, creativity and successful problem-solving.

PLAY = Pleasurable, Laughter, Amusing and Youthful

While many corners of our culture still seem to dismiss play for adults, it appears to be turning around. Play is no longer seen as something that’s just a guilty pleasure. Adulthood is no longer “a time to get serious.” Today, we finally recognize that just as it is important for children, play is important for adults as well.
Smiling, playful, happy people are thought to have more friends and be more successful by appearing more confident and approachable. Studies on college students show that “smilers” are perceived as more optimistic, reliable, and better leaders than their “non-smiling” counterparts.

According to The British Dental Health Foundation, a smile gives the same level of stimulation as eating 2,000 chocolate bars. Dr. Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Foundation, pointed out, “We have long been drawing attention to the fact that smiling increases happiness both in yourself and those around you, so it is good to receive the backing of this scientific research … A healthy smile can improve your confidence, help you make friends and help you to succeed in your career … ”

Research demonstrates that smiling improves and strengthens our immune system and can help prevent a number of diseases. Laughter therapy has curative agents that assist in treating several diseases such as hypertension, ulcers, arthritis, stroke, diabetes and even heart diseases. It offers good relaxation and helps you relieve stress and depression.

Laughing reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and gives us a quick burst of energy. A good laugh can be beneficial to the lungs, boost immunity, and can even burn off calories.

The physical act of smiling can use as little as 5 muscles or well over 16 of the 44 muscles in our faces (an average smile involves 14 muscles) and just like any muscle the more you use it, the stronger it is. When we smile and laugh our blood pressure goes up and then comes down. We stretch our lungs, relax our chests, and breathe easier.

A true smile begins at the eyes, specifically the orbicularis oculi muscle, which involves another involuntary facial movement; blinking. While smiling and blinking are triggered automatically, the muscle can also be moved voluntary. Notice that if you check your smile in the mirror, or in another person, the most convincing area is around the eyes. Most fake smiles are like a grimace and just an exaggerated lifting of the mouth muscles. That can help in spotting the true emotions of others and enable you to return an eye-to-eye smile.

A genuine smile is known as a ‘Duchenne smile’ after the French physician Guillanne Duchenn. This involves smiling with the mouth and crinkling around the corners of your eyes.

A polite functional smile is known as a ‘Pan American smile’, and involves stretching the mouth, but doesn’t use the eyes.

You know the difference. One is genuine, “I’m really glad to see you here.” The other is perfunctory nod, “Hey, I’m smiling back, that’s enough.”

The eyes and lips are powerful weapons that everyone is equipped with at birth. When used for good, this weapon can exert a significant amount of health and happiness on the smiler and recipient. So become the center of a positive change ripple. Squeeze your zygomatic major, squint your orbicularis oculi, and if you really want to get things flowing … expose your teeth ☺.

Proverbs 17:22 puts it like this, “A happy heart is like a good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing.” Maybe they knew something back then, after all.