I’m not exactly sure why, but I spent most of my adult life not smiling much. I was too serious, about work, making money, raising kids at home while working there (not recommended), being an alpha male, and generally regarding the universe as a place to bear down and get things done. Or wage battles. And it cost me. A grimace several decades old is hard to shake. Even when you’re happy, you can look too serious by anyone else’s measuring stick. I suspect my mouth shrank somewhat during those years.
In retirement, I believe I’m less serious because there’s less reason to be. My goal is to be more relaxed, more tolerant, more philosophical. And to smile more. So I’m practicing. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s not. It’s a form of fitness we don’t often think about.
Here’s what I’ve learned lately and why, if you are an infrequent smiler, you too might consider upping your game:
Brain science shows that smiling activates three powerful neurotransmitters: dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, a cocktail of self-generated well-being. Our bodies relax. Our moods lift. Our health improves enough that a habitual smiler can add years to life. (All those centenarians? Probably lifelong grinners.)
The social message is undeniable. A smile universally signifies friendship and peace. It conveys sincerity, reliability, competence. It bridges chasms of misunderstanding. It unites cultures and disarms mistrust. When traveling, I smile so much my face hurts. It pays off, especially in countries where language is a barrier. You are more likely to get what you need — directions, help, food, whatever — with a smile on your face, versus the grimace of the anxious or the flatness of the uncaring. Humanity, wherever it lives, loves a smile.
(There are exceptions to that rule. Once, on assignment, wielding my camera obtrusively and looking for pictures of “colorful” people at a NASCAR race at Talladega, Alabama, I smiled at a group of heavy-set men in bandanas and sleeveless t-shirts who were standing like a pack of beer-drinking wolves on the roof of a big motor home. Their faces instantly conveyed menace. My smile was pathetically ineffective. In fact, had they been on the ground, it might have been wiped from my face along with a few teeth. I digress.)
Contagious, one smile usually triggers others. Rooms can fill with smiles in seconds. So powerful is a smile that it’s said we can recognize one from as far away as 300 feet.
What about fake smiles? They are fine for practicing because merely lifting the corners of the mouth sets off our feel-good responses. But in public, fake falls flat. We instinctively know the difference. Authenticity recruits the eyes. Our eyes must join in and be warm, at which point the connection is complete and the world in that moment is a better place.
“A smile,” said Phyllis Diller (who incited millions), “is a curve that sets everything straight.”
There are some interesting smile facts are here. Just reading them made the corners of my mouth turn upward slightly.
Feel free to email me about this post.
I probably can’t respond but would appreciate your insight or story or query, which I might refer to in a future post.