How Joy Impacts the Heart

February is Heart Health month. In Traditional Chinese Medicine’s Five Element framework, the Heart is associated with the emotion of Joy. Did you know laughing or smiling can do wonders for your cardiovascular health? Smiling (a genuine smile) and being happy may sound too easy, but this time-tested wisdom brings us this simple truth: love is the most powerful way to nurture the visible and invisible aspects of the Heart.

Everyone wants to know the “secret” to a long life of good health—it’s smiling! It can keep your Heart forever young. Believe it or not, It’s a far more effective and easier “cardio exercise” than running on a treadmill or kickboxing! Why is that? The act of smiling creates positive emotional Qi and propels it through the body, it helps heal the Heart as well as other organs; it can change the Heart’s spirit or Shen, as well as cause its physiology to change. If you change your face, your Heart changes; if you change your Heart, your face also will change, reflecting your deepest feelings. What causes the Heart to change? It’s not by “continually thinking things through,” but rather by quieting your mind and becoming peaceful.

According to a study published in Psychological Science (read the Wall Street Journal article here), even the act of forcing yourself to smile has stress-relieving benefits. In the same study, University of California at Irvine researchers found that smiling lowered the pulse rate and resulted in a faster physiological recovery rate after a stressful activity.

In another study published in Psychological Science in 2010, researchers drew the link between smiling and longevity! They showed that professional baseball players who smiled in their photos lived until the age of 80 on average, versus age 73 for players who didn’t smile in their photographs (read the Wall Street Journal essay here).

Here’s an easy smiling exercise for cardiovascular and whole body health from our popular weight loss and stress relief book, Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Natural Guide for Weight Loss that Lasts (HarperCollins): Sit quietly and face a mirror and smile at yourself … that’s it. Just smile at yourself—from your Heart. This kind of smile that comes from deep within (don’t just fake a smile) creates an actual positive physical effect. It helps blood and vital energy flow throughout your whole body. After you’ve done this practice of smiling at yourself regularly, try smiling at others from your Heart! You may be pleasantly surprised at the results, and your Heart will thank you!