The Power of a Sincere Smile

Going to the gym the other day, I was greeted by a dimpled, smiling faced young woman at the front desk.  She checked me in with a wide grin, said my name, which woke me from my sleepy daze at 6:00 AM.  While warming-up during my spin class, I contemplated the power of her sincere smile and how good it made me feel so early in the morning.

After class I decided to ask the “greeter” about it.  But first, I needed to find out her name, which was Chelsea.  That formality accomplished, I inquired if she smiled all the time. She responded with a twinkle, “No, I only smile when you come in.” Brownie point.  Then, I queried if her face hurt at the end of the day welcoming so many members to the Equinox Club and she answered not at all.  Chelsea did, however, let down her guard a bit sharing with me her experience as a high school cheerleader. “The coach forced us to smile continuously whenever we were in public.  By the end of the evening’s sports event, my face ached!”

Despite some potential discomfort, there are many positive reasons to incorporate frequent smiling in your daily life.  Most of them we already know.  For example, smiles are universally understood, and they are contagious.  Smiling also functions as an automatic reflex.  For example, have you ever not smiled back at a small child when he or she gave you an innocent, toothless grin? 

The list continues. Smiling even makes you look better and as such helps you to sell yourself to others. Consider the visual difference of dealing with someone who frowns versus someone with a pleasant smile on their face. 

Smiling simply makes you feel better too.  Psychology Today calls it a “feel-good party in your brain.” Research has shown that smiling releases serotonin – a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of happiness and well-being. Even when you’re not at your best, try smiling. It is guaranteed to improve how you feel.

On the other hand, there are a few times when smiling can be dangerous.  Bibi, a family friend, was born with a broad, engaging smile.  However, when he was in Marine training, as he tells it, “My blessing was my curse.”  Whenever a drill Sargent looked at him, his natural reaction was to smile back.  Not good during a basic training session. He was forever in trouble and had to put up with a constant taunt of “Wipe that smile off your face, recruit!”

Another negative aspect of smiling is that is does, in fact, cause smile lines around your eyes and mouth.  This fear of wrinkles motivated a woman in the UK called Tessie Christian to make a conscious decision to never to smile.  Ever!  For the past 40 years, and even when her daughter was born, Tessie’s face remains expressionless.  Truth be told, her perpetual poker face has resulted in her looking younger than her age.  For her, it is a better alternative to not smile than to have to use Botox to keep her smooth, youthful face.  Nonetheless, Tessie really looks odd in photos when everyone else is gleefully hamming it up for the camera while she is standing there looking gloomy.

Ironically, there are also cultural differences in how we smile.  In a 2005 article by D.T. Max in the New York Times Magazine, the author discussed research done on the subject by Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology from UC Berkley.  Keltner’s premise is that Americans smile differently from Brits.  “On this side of the Atlantic, we simply draw the corners of our lips up, showing our upper teeth.” Keltner, who specializes in the cultural meaning of emotions, says that “In England, they draw the lips back as well as up, showing their lower teeth. The English smile can be mistaken for a suppressed grimace or a request to wipe that stupid smile off your face. Think headwaiter at a restaurant when your MasterCard seems tapped out, or Prince Charles anytime.”

Over the years, I’ve admired the magnificent, "Julia Robert's" smile of a good friend who lives in Hawaii, Haley Matson-Mathes, (a marketing expert and President of Dames D’Escoffier International).  One day I asked Haley what her philosophy was on smiling and she replied, “Smiling is a gift – a way to share your spirit with another person, and in sharing the smile, I feel happiness in return.” 

I’m sure Haley agrees that her million-dollar smile, which gives others so much joy when they encounter it, is a small price to pay for a few happy wrinkles.  Plus, the act of smiling is absolutely free.