In the past, I’ve leveled my fair share of criticism at social media and it’s heavy users, even though I work in the business. It’s easy to do. That was before I met Dr. Amy Banks, MD.

Amy directs the advanced training program at the Jean Baker Miller Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She has spent her entire career studying the neurobiology of relationships and social connections, and has become the foremost expert in this field. 

Recent research in this area has made two fascinating discoveries.

First, a newly understood part of our nervous system – dubbed the “smart vagus”controls, among other very important things, the muscles of our face, eyes, mouth, and inner ear to enhance social communication and connection.

Second, when we connect with people in positive ways, with a smile on our face, or see a mental or physical image of healthy human connection, we experience a pleasure-inducing rush of dopamine. We become calm, happy, and less aroused, aggressive, angry or agitated. Regularly tweaking our “smart vagus” with such stimuli can eventually replace our need for other habitual and unhealthy forms of generating pleasure. This sounds dirty, I know.

So, how does this relate to social media? One of Amy’s techniques for helping individuals rewire their brains to build healthier relationships – and vice versa – is to fill their camera roll, Instagram account and Snapchats with loving images of friends, family and others, with smiles on their faces. She calls these Positive Relational Moments.

Ever walk by a co-worker’s office and see him or her looking at their phone with a wide smile on their face? There you go. So start building your own library of positive relational moments. And make sure you take time out of your day for a healthy dose of social media, and a smile.