Merry Christmas! I hope you're having an enjoyable and blessed holiday season in this once a year time, with its distinctive and stimulating sights, smells and sounds. In this season, music is everywhere, and music, like our other senses, has the ability to lift our spirits and transport our thoughts to another place or time. I'm sure that all of us can think of songs that, when we hear them, immediately trigger an emotional thought that is positive or negative and seeped in meaning. It doesn't have to necessarily be associated with the holidays or holiday music.
I have one in mind for this holiday season that is not a traditional holiday tune, though it does have everything to do with gift giving. I'll have more on this later.
We have a deep connection to music that is not always scientifically understood. According to Barbara Else, senior adviser of policy and research at the American Music Therapy Association, it's hardwired in our brains and bodies.
Music has the power to prevent anxiety-induced increases in heart rate and blood pressure, both biological markers of stress. As to those Christmas caroling groups, it's been discovered that performing music, versus listening to music, may also have a calming effect. In studies with adult choir singers, singing the same piece of music tended to synch up their breathing and heart rates, producing a groupwide calming effect.
Music also has been shown to have a unique ability to help with pain management. In one recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, patients undergoing spine surgery were instructed to listen to self-selected music on the evening before their surgery and until the second day after their surgery. When measured on pain levels post surgery, the group had significantly less pain than a control group who didn't listen to music, and the music-listening group was also less likely to need pain medication.
Music enjoyment also elicits dopamine release, and dopamine release has been tied to motivation, which in turn is implicated in learning and memory. This has led to research on the impact of music on special populations, such as those who suffer memory loss due to illness.
Music can also make you smile. We know to smile is a good thing. But you may not know just how much this one act can benefit your health and well-being.
It's the realization of smiling's greater rewards that reminded me of the song I eluded to earlier — "Smile," an amazing old classic that began as the instrumental theme written by Charlie Chaplin for his classic film "Modern Times." Lyrics were added in 1954 followed by a hit recording from Nat King Cole. The song has since been covered by artists from Jimmy Durante to Elvis Costello, from Barbara Streisand to Josh Groban. It was one of Michael Jackson's absolute favorite songs and was a featured part of his 2009 memorial.
I now share with you a little of what I've learned of the gift (and face value) a smile can give in bettering your health and well-being — along with an accompaniment of lyrics from this classic song.
Smile, though your heart is aching.
Smile, even though it's breaking.
When there are clouds in the sky,
You'll get by.
The serotonin release brought on by your smile serves as an antidepressant and mood enhancer. Many of today's pharmaceutical antidepressants are designed to influence the levels of serotonin in your brain. The difference with a smile: you don't have to worry about negative side effects and no prescription is needed.
When you smile, your brain is aware of the activity and it activates positive neural messaging. The more you smile, the more effective you are at breaking the brain's natural tendency to think negatively. If you smile often enough, you end up rewiring your brain to more positive thinking. If you stay with it, you can create what researchers call a happiness loop. You may also find a boost in productivity and creativity as a result, which allows you to perform better at work and life. Though you might not feel like smiling, studies have shown that even if you fake it you can achieve the same positive results.
If you smile through your fear and sorrow,
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through
According to Sondra Barrett, an author and biochemist who teaches and lectures about the science and practice of mind-body medicine, when you let go of tension (an outcome achieved through smiling) your cells let go of their rigidness. Smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress. The feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when a smile flashes across your face. Your smile not only relaxes your body, but it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
Scientists and others in the mind-body field agree that the simple act of smiling can transform both you and the world around you. Tests have shown that a smile makes us appear more attractive to others. Each time you smile at a person, their brain coaxes them to return the favor. You are creating a symbiotic relationship that allows both of you to release feel good chemicals in your brain and activate reward centers.
Or, as Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh once said: "Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy."
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you'll just smile.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Elliott Brown