The Smiles Have It

smile

Many years ago, I was in a meeting when I looked across the table at two women slightly older than I. They both had horrible frowns on their faces. The frowns weren’t there because they were upset or unhappy but because they frowned so routinely their faces naturally fell into that expression when their faces were in repose. Whoa! Looking at those two women and realizing what they had done to themselves had a more profound effect on me than any number of lectures could have.

Since that time, I have resolved to keep a smile on my face. I have consciously worked to train my face to fall into a gentle smile when in repose. It was shocking to me when I received the responses I did when I first started making smiling a daily practice. Most people pause a second and then smile back. Some have done double-takes. Others have asked why I was so happy or why was I smiling. I have noticed that there are others who have pleasant smiles on their face in repose, but definitely not many.

Please note: I did not start working on keeping a smile on my face for other people. It was a truly selfish desire to not look angry or upset all of the time. If I have to deal with the wrinkles that are inevitable, I want those wrinkles to be as pleasant as possible. I truly would rather be perceived in my old age as a sweet old lady rather than a dragon. Even if the perception people may have of my having a sweet demeanor is misleading, it’s the look I would prefer to have.

I have since been made aware of more of the benefits of smiling. In the article If You Do One Healthy Thing Today by Lexi Petronis in the February 10, 2014 edition of Glamour.com, she states:

     A study from the University of Kansas found that smiling genuinely can drop your heart rate. In fact, the research even suggests that smiling while in the midst a stressful task can help your brain and body recover from the stress more quickly afterward. Another study in the European Heart Journal showed that participants with a more positive outlook were less likely to develop heart disease than Debbie Downers.

In my own experience, I also think keeping a smile on my face helps me look younger and more attractive. Who doesn’t want to be perceived as being more attractive? Don’t we all feel more drawn to someone who is smiling?

     People who smile more often have a more positive effect on their environment, and are better received by others ( Abel, MH, Hester, R. (2002).

I love those moments when people look at my smile and start smiling back in response. It makes both of us more open to conversation and just sets a pleasant tone to any interaction that may follow. It is a rare event for me to leave my home and not have fun exchanging witticisms with a stranger. Yes, it might be my talkative heredity, but I believe the fact that I greet the world with a smile makes a huge difference in how people respond to me.

Another benefit to training yourself to smile is that you can fool yourself into actually feeling better. According to WebMD:

     Paul Ekman, PhD, a psychologist who is an expert in facial expressions, taught himself to arrange the muscles in his face to make certain expressions. To his surprise, he found himself feeling the emotions that he was mimicking. When he raised his cheeks, parted his lips, and turned the corners of his mouth up, he felt happier.

Ekman and his research partner went on to do a study of college students to see if they, too, would feel happier by making themselves smile. The researchers measured the students’ brain activity while the students followed instructions to smile using the muscles in their cheeks and around their mouths.
Whether the students smiled spontaneously or on purpose, the activity in their brains was virtually the same. They felt happy.

As I researched this article to find facts documenting what I realized instinctively in that meeting all those years ago, I found myself smiling. If I were to market a pill that made people look more attractive, made them feel better physically and was good for their heart, how many millions do you think I could make? Smiling is such a simple tool for feeling better and making those around you feel better too. Everyone has this ability without having to take classes or buy a single thing. So, like you’ve always been told when having your picture taken, smile. Just smile.

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