The crazy way you (and everybody else) knows you're happy
“If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams, and you will always look lovely.” Lovely sentiment, Roald Dahl, but actually, your good thoughts sweat out of your pores. Kind of way more gross, but totally true: a recent study out of the Netherlands has found that whenever we’re feeling truly happy, we actually release these things called “chemosignals” in our sweat, and our friends and fam can totally smell them.
A dozen healthy, non-smoking, non-medicated men participated in the study. Each one watched a clip that was intended to elicit one of three emotions: fear, happiness, or a neutral emotion. Also, in order to rate their “implicit emotion,” men were also asked to view Chinese symbols and rate how pleasant they thought each one was.
Each man was also asked to rinse their armpits and attach absorbent pads to them. The pads were removed after each task and stored. (Yes, we give you permission to giggle at the mental image of 12 men with maxi-pads taped to their armpits, teehee.) When the researchers analyzed the pads, they found that both happiness and fear can be communicated through odors in sweat.
Then, the researchers conducted another trial with 36 women, who were asked to smell a sweat sample from each emotion the men experienced — ew. According to the study, the researchers chose women to smell the samples because women have a better sense of smell and are more sensitive to emotions than men (woot!).
The researchers took notes on their facial expressions when they smelled each, and they found that the women reacted accordingly. When they smelled the fear samples, their expressions “demonstrated increased activity in the medial frontalis muscle of the face,” which is associated with fearful expressions. When they smelled the happiness samples, their expression resembled a “Duchenne smile,” which is associated with happy expressions.
“These chemosignals trigger a contagion of the emotional state,” Gün Semin, lead author of the study, told Medical News Today. “This suggests that somebody who is happy will infuse others in their vicinity with happiness.”
Semin also noted that companies that rely heavily on odor and aroma may want to take note of this. Seriously, can you imagine spraying happiness on yourself?
All of this might sound gross, but the takeaway is kind of nice. “In a way, happiness sweat is somewhat like smiling – it is infectious,” Semin explained. Previously, research showed that chemosignaling can instill negative emotions, but there was very little research about the happy emotions, and hey, we’re happy to hear that happiness may literally be contagious.
So from now on, when your friend is grinning ear-to-ear, tell them, “Wow, you smell happy today!” It’ll totally freak ’em out, and you’ll seem super smart. You’re welcome.