Researchers have long identified a correlation between beauty and happiness – a relationship confirmed by economists Dr Daniel Hamermesh and Dr Jason Abrevaya after studying the results of surveys conducted in four separate countries. Their conclusion: beautiful people are happier because they get more attention, bag higher paychecks, and marry higher-earning spouses than their gloomier counterparts. But is the opposite true? Does happiness – or the projection of it – have a positive effect on appearance?
What you see is what you get
Definitely, say those in the know. ‘When you’re happy your skin will appear healthier, and your hair and nails can actually grow faster,’ explains Richard Fried, M.D., Ph.D., a dermatologist in Yardley, Pennsylvania. Positive people also tend to have better postures, standing tall with their chests out and shoulders back. And being happy in the sack has its own special spin-off for women’s looks: sexual satisfaction causes a spike in oestrogen, which contributes to strong, shiny hair and a radiant post-orgasmic glow. Conversely, stress can cause acne break-outs and eczema flare-ups, increase hair-fall and speed up the ageing process.
The eye of the beholder
Beyond the effect of emotions on physiological processes and features, there’s also evidence that external perceptions of the emotional space a person occupies play a role in determining how attractive they appear. In two separate studies carried out in 1982 and 1990, subjects were shown pictures of men or women, specifically selected on the basis on their average looks, either smiling or not smiling. The ‘smilers’ were perceived, unsurprisingly, to be happier than the ‘non-smilers’ – but also as more intelligent and attractive.
Fake it till you make it
Even more interesting are the results of a study of depressed women who were given Botox injections in their frown lines, inhibiting their ability to express negativity in their facial expressions. Once they were no longer able to grimace, these women experienced a marked improvement of mood. ‘When you smile, even if you’re upset, it feeds the brain signals that make you feel more positive,’ says Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a researcher who specialises in happiness at the University of California, Riverside. These two studies seem to suggest that happier people (or those who appear happier) are not only likely to be perceived as more beautiful, but that exhibiting happiness in physical demeanour actually leads to more happiness (and ultimately, greater perceived beauty).
The beauty within
Perhaps the key to feeling – and looking – beautiful is to simply be comfortable in your own skin and content with who you are as a person. Gary Witherspoon, a professor of American Indian studies at the University of Washington explains the Navajo Indian interpretation of beauty : ‘The Navajo does not look for beauty; he generates it within himself and projects it onto the universe. The Navajo says shi/l hózhó “with me there is beauty”, shii’ hózhó “in me there is beauty”, and shaa hózhó “from me beauty radiates”. Beauty is not “out there” in things to be perceived by the perceptive and appreciative viewer; it is a creation of thought.’