I was going to snag a picture of the Mona Lisa for this ’cause that seemed like such a natural choice for a post about smiling but then I thought it would be more fun to grab a bunch of smiles from several of my own paintings. (Bonus points if you can guess 10 of the smilers.)
There are a few hand gestures that don’t translate so well in other countries but a smile is a universal expression of happiness all over the world (tho’ not so much in the animal kingdom, where they think you’re baring your teeth in aggression). It’s the most frequently used facial expression and can take as few as five pairs or as many as 53 individual facial muscles to pull off. You use far fewer muscles to smile than for frowning, plus it releases endorphins that make you feel better. Even fake smiling can make you feel happier! In one study, people enjoyed comedy more, thought jokes were funnier, etc., if they smiled while they watched. Are you getting this? You actually enjoy things more if you smile while you’re doing them. And this isn’t something we learned how to do; people are born with the ability to smile — even babies who are born blind smile. Still need a reason to show your pearly whites? A smiling person is judged to be more pleasant, attractive, sincere, sociable, and competent than a non-smiling person
Think you’re a pretty good judge of a fake smile? Apparently most people aren’t. “One possible explanation for this is that it may be easier for people to get along if they don’t always know what others are really feeling.” Fake smiles can be called up anytime the brain wants, but real smiles are automatic. Try this little experiment that tests your ability to tell the difference.