The Science Behind the World’s Most Powerful Gesture, the Smile.

May 18, 2017

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.Mother Teresa

So, what’s in a smile?

A smile is the world’s most powerful gesture, and considering how many gestures there are, that speaks volumes! A smile is a universal indicator that happiness is among us, and the spirit of joy is present.

With all of the division among humanity, derived from strategically placed fear, angst and worry, we find ourselves becoming paralyzed by it, becoming weighted down while trying to navigate to higher ground. It can be like quicksand, pulling us deeper the more we fight against it.

It becomes hard to see past it all and realize that good still exists in this world. A smile reminds us that it’s there, and is still alive in our spirits. It is a reflection reminding us of what life is all about, the simple things. It’s about learning to see the beauty in simplicity and being grateful for all that we do have. It’s about doing good, lifting our fellow men and women, and raising their spirits above the quicksand. Once you find this beauty, smile, and hang onto it as tightly as you can.

A smile is what is keeping us all going, even if we ourselves are not aware of it. At one time or another, a smile has assisted in propelling us into a better state of mind. Once there, we are able to then share this beauty and simple appreciation with our fellow neighbors. A positive state of mind allows one the ability to see the world in a different light, with a positive outlook that allows us to shine that light where the darkness continues to dwell.

According to a Women’s Health Article from 2014, studies show that even a smile lasting just four hundredths of a second (referred to as subliminal priming) can produce a mini-emotional high. This, in turn, causes things to immediately become more positive. It helps assist in turning what was once boring into something entertaining. Even food tastes better when it is served to us with a smile.

No matter the differences we may have, whether it be our backgrounds, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or race, we can all universally agree that a smile symbolizes joy, laughter, contentment and love, for the most part. However, like most things, there is an exception to this rule.

Tough Guys Smile Too 

Sadly, we must come to terms with the fact that what should be considered positive can also be antagonistic, such as a bully that smiles or laughs at the anguish they have caused their victim. A smile can also be the result of a nervous habit that the individual may or may not even acknowledge they’re doing. This can happen when their current surroundings trigger the memory of a past negative experience, often a memory they have no recollection of.

In addition, high levels of testosterone can cause some men to laugh or scoff when faced with danger or while in distress. This is their body’s way of reacting to fear, and in turn, their way of showing that they are not afraid. This is potentially why women smile more than men and are more likely to return a smile, especially to that of a man. So, in some instances, the level of joy and happiness that is represented in a smile, can also take the form of being tough, but it’s not as common by any means.

What Came First? The Smile or The Joy?

Now, it’s hard to say which came first, the smile or happiness that it yields. Considering a smile causes happiness, and the feeling of being happy causes us to smile, it can be tough to trace. Whether or not this really matters is also up in the air. If it isn’t broke, why bother to fix it. The results, regardless of which one caused the other, is being happy, so why disturb that?

Smiles are also very contagious, as I am sure all of us have experienced, right along with the yawn from our co-worker that didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Both of which are triggered by our minds ability to mirror, or emulate the emotions and responses around us, which will be covered in more detail a bit further down.

Not only are they contagious, they also increase the serotonin levels for both the giver and receiver as this article by Dr. Oz explains. Studies have shown that a straight and white smile signals others to believe that the one smiling is healthy, smart, financially secure and youthful! Wow!

It’s no wonder that having a straight and white smile has also been linked to building up one’s self-esteem, allowing them to feel more confident about themselves.

Real or Fake? –

Aside from the obvious fact that pretty white smiles are aesthetically pleasing, we have also learned that all smiles trigger something deep within our subconscious. When an individual flashes a smile at a lucky recipient, it immediately triggers the response that we already know that person. A smile brings out a sense of familiarity among two parties, complete strangers, causing the deep seeded desire and humanistic need to bond with another person. We need each other, seek each other and this proves it.

Smiling and its effects on society are so valuable and important to us that we are actually programmed to determine whether or not a smile is genuine or one they’ve adapted due to society standards. Simply put, fake.

As mentioned in an Article written by Leo Widrich, there are three stages that our brain activates to determine the validity of one’s smile. The really cool part is all of this happens without our knowledge and within a matter of seconds. How awesome is that? The steps are as follows:

1) Our brain quickly calculates and mentally compares the geometry of the individual smiling and that of a standard face. This is done to determine if our ‘obicularis oculi’ muscle is being used, which is the muscle at the base of your eye socket and is only triggered in the instance that a smile is genuine and not forced.

It is also referred to as the ‘Genuine Smile Muscle’ and it’s pretty clear why when you take a look at the image below. (A) is a forced/fake smile, whereas, (B) is a genuine smile, as you can see it in his eyes.

Hence, the expression that we have all heard I’m sure, that true happiness can be seen in our eyes.

2) After we gauge which muscles are being used to create the smile, we then think about the current situation and surroundings. We do this to judge for ourselves whether or not a smile is expected and also appropriate.

3) Last, but certainly not least, we utilize our mirroring neurons (which are neurons that fire when we not only see an action done but also when we complete the same action) to automatically mimic the smile presented. We use this to gauge and feel for ourselves whether it’s coming from a genuine or false source.

So, are you being gauged as someone that graces us all with a genuine smile, or one that has adopted a socially acceptable grin? One that you utilize out of habit as opposed to happiness? If you have fallen victim to the later, have no fear, help to get back your genuine smile is here!

Below are three steps that you can take to gain back that heartfelt, childlike grin; reflecting a sparkle of happiness within your eyes. Master this, use it often, and you will be given so much more to smile about. This is also one of the first steps in learning to lead a happier lifestyle.

1) Imagine and focus on a real life situation – One that you have experienced personally, that made you smile, or extremely happy. Doing this alone right before a big event, meeting, making a phone call or even just sending an email will create a more positive environment.

Regardless of how, or with who you interact with, they will be able to sense that smile, even if they can’t see you. In turn, they will respond more receptively and positively to you, and in a more timely manner. With the two of you flowing, right along with the positive vibes and smiles, it’s a great way to conduct business or start your day.

2) Practice smiling in front of a mirror – In the morning while getting ready, practice smiling in the mirror. Be sure to try to activate your mouth corners, as well as your eye sockets. You will know when you have mastered the genuine smile when you start to feel more at ease and a sense of happiness come over you. Smiling, even when it’s being done for practice, can immediately invoke positive emotions.

3) Become comfortable with smiling – This step really boils down to a different way of thinking, however, for some, this is the most important step in not only genuinely smiling, but also leading a happier life. Practice often at home, and also wherever you go. When you are not around others, simply imagine yourself smiling at everyone and everything you can think of. This will get your mind to trigger more positive thoughts, making it easier to smile, building your confidence.

Oh, to be a kid again….

How many times have you played with your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews etc..and noticed, or stated, that in doing so, it ‘brought the kid out in you?’

There is actually a scientific explanation for this as well, other than the fact that blowing bubbles and playing dress up is pretty fun. It has been determined that simply seeing a smile can reduce stress in the body and mind, that which is equivalent to getting the best night’s rest that you can remember. The more smiles we see, the more we create positive thoughts and emotions, which in turn, create positive situations.

Positive situations lead to the creation of smiles, which create more positive thoughts and emotions. It becomes a full cycle that truly sets the stage for the type of lifestyle you’d like to live. Children can help us fast track this lifestyle, and lead a happy carefree life themselves, based on how much they smile. The average child smiles approximately 400 times within a day.

The average happy adult smiles about 40-50 times in a day, and the standard adult sits in at just about 20 times a day. So, the next time you are feeling down, hang out with some kids, they will fix you right up.

Who Cares?

So, now that we have determined all of the amazing ways that giving, and receiving, a simple smile can impact us physically and mentally, we must now answer the following:

Why does any of this matter to me?”

The answer here is a simple one. It matters to everyone that reads this article, because it will change your life, or somebody that you love, guaranteed. We have become overwhelmed with what mainstream media wants us to focus on, by blasting it from every source possible.

Funny, but war, poverty, politics and tragedy just aren’t topics that generate a whole lot of smiles or positive vibes. This shift in energy and our happiness is definitely being felt on a large scale. Without question, society as a whole is losing that ‘twinkle in their eye’ as our levels of joy continue to decline.

Doing good, feels good, it’s as simple as that.  Smiling in itself is one of the best things you can do for yourself, and others, at the same time. It reduces stress, creates positive thoughts and feelings, allows more creativity to flow and opens the doors for you to live a better life.

Who would have ever thought that all that was possible through the simple, yet very complicated, act in smiling?

Whatever you do today, first, make sure that you like and share this piece of course, and also share a smile too! It truly will change your life and that of somebody else. If for no other reason, do it for Goodness’ Sake!

Hollie ‘Day’ Jenkins
May 16, 2017
Hooray Cafe 

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