We normally think that we smile because we’re happier, but the opposite is also true: we’re happy because we smile. Smiling uses certain muscles, which send signals to the brain, which interprets them as evidence of our positive mood. It thinks, “I’m smiling, I must be happy.” Now new research suggests that using our smiling muscles in other ways, such as in speaking the long “I” vowel, could also make us happy.
Comparing Vowel Sounds and Emotion
Researchers in Germany were interested in determining whether the vowels in words were inherently connected to emotions. They used two different studies to analyze the effect. In the first study, they showed subjects either happy or sad movie clips, then asked people to make up words and say them aloud. When people watched sad clips, their made up words contained significantly more “o” sounds (as in “alone”). When they watched happy clips, their words contained significantly more long “i” sounds (as in “smile”).
Then researchers showed a different set of subjects cartoons, asking them to make either “o” sounds or “i” sounds while watching. People who made “i” sounds enjoyed the cartoons much more, rating them as funnier. As a result researchers concluded that the “i” sound is inherently associated with more positive emotions.
Your Smile and Your Happiness
According to researchers, the reason why the “i” sound makes us happy is that it causes the contraction of the zygomaticus major muscle, which you also use when you smile or when you laugh. If just saying the word “smile” can make us happy, how much more happy will we feel when we can actually smile freely and spontaneously.
Unfortunately, many of us have teeth that make us decide not to smile. Instead of sharing our smile, we stifle it, which makes us feel worse. Not only are you feeling self-conscious about your smile, but you’re forcing yourself into a negative emotional state by using muscles that send negative emotions to your brain.