Better Than Botox: Smiling Stops Sad and Depressive Thinking

4 min read

I’d like to begin this article with a bit of self-disclosure. For several years, I spent much of my time on the road giving mindfulness workshops. Four days of almost every week, I traveled through airports, checking in and out of hotels and driving between cities on a nightly basis. I loved the workshops and interacting with others, but the grind of travel, the delayed flights, and the lost luggage started to take a toll.

Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos

It’s easier to change those negative feelings than you might think!

Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos

Running through the airport terminal to catch a late flight home, I noticed it: a seemingly perpetual frown on my face. Attendants and others at the gate and on the plane smiled at me, but the best I could offer back was a painfully sad grimace.

Travel and constant transition were stressful, and somehow, I needed to apply mindfulness! That’s when I decided to put to the test some research that I’d read about.

That’s why I decided to smile my way through airports to see how that would affect not only how I felt but how others responded. I’ll share my results in a moment. First, however, let’s look at the research.

A Smile for Treating Depression

There’s a body of research related to using Botox in order to freeze certain facial areas—in particular, the glabellar region of the face that relates to negative emotions. This is the area between the eyes that produces a frown when you feel sad or depressed. Even Charles Darwin and William James believed that these “grief muscles” could create a feedback loop to maintain negative emotions. They weren’t far off.

Scientists used Botox to freeze the frowning muscles in the faces of subjects and discovered that those individuals had a difficult time conceptualizing thoughts around anger and sadness. That’s because they couldn’t make the facial expression that went with the thought.

The good news? An intentional smile induces the same Botox effect of relaxing the glabellar region.

Try that yourself right now. Put a nice big smile on your face as you take a long breath in. Keep that smile on your face as you exhale. Notice your body, too? How does the smile make your body feel? Is there a sense of greater openness? A sense of relaxation? Below are some tips for incorporating the body and making these changes more permanent.

Change Your Body, Change Your Mind Practice

Use the following practice, which is excerpted from my new book, Simply Mindful Resilience, to shift your physical and mental perspective.

1. Throughout the day, notice your posture—particularly when you feel negative, stressed, or anxious. Does your body tighten up? Where? Do you tend to look up, down, or away from others?

2. Assume a more relaxed and open posture. Make sure your arms, hands, and jaw are relaxed and not clenched or tight. Avoid crossing your arms over your chest, which makes it harder to take a calming breath. Do you notice a difference?

3. Experiment with smiling. Smile for the next 30 seconds and see how this changes how you feel and maybe even think.

4. Try the following different body movements and expressions: a confident posture and facial expression. A compassionate one. A loving one.

5. Look at the postures and expressions of those you admire. When they speak or act, is their body in alignment with their mood? Practice by experimenting with the postures and expressions of those you want to emulate.


This is a powerful way of altering fixed mindsets. Use it anytime you feel defensive, stuck in anger, or want to change your mood on the spot.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I practiced smiling on my subsequent trips through the airport. I’ll admit it felt a little strange to be smiling for no apparent reason in a busy terminal. But people who caught my eye often smiled or waved back! I could feel myself being more present and less stressed. This practice made a positive change in my experience.

Did I get anyone who looked at me askance? Yes, I did. And I just kept on smiling.

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours