Recently I posted a challenge on Facebook. The challenge was rather simple, but something very few people think about in their every day lives. I challenged you to smile at a minimum of 3 strangers that day. A rather simple task really, but one not many people would consider on their own. I’m quite sure the majority don’t even register how they interact with their outer world just by physically being in it, but the truth is we do. Every time you pass someone on the street, buy something in a store or bump into someone randomly you are interacting. So imagine if everyone made a conscious effort and smiled at a minimum of 3 of these people daily. Imagine how beautiful the world could be!
I grew up in Portugal as a diplomat child, so meeting strangers was a part of everyday life and, in all honesty, not something I always enjoyed, but it taught me to smile and be polite to everyone – something I am more than grateful for having learnt as a natural part of life. My mother would tell me I had a responsibility when interacting with others and that smiling to people can brighten their day massively whereas being grumpy can affect someone’s day negatively. I never really thought much about it – maybe because she always smiled so much herself, so I figured this was just what people did. Maybe because I was just a kid. However, as an adult I have to admit that people don’t all naturally smile, which was probably my mother’s main reason for making a big deal out of it in the first place. Little did she know she had science on her side!
First of all, smiles are infectious. If you smile at someone or someone smiles at you, the smile will be almost immediately reciprocated.
What’s more is this; Smiling at others and brightening their day this way actually makes you happier! Research has shown that acts of kindness towards friends and strangers alike lower your stress levels and contribute to your enhanced mental health! The author of ‘The How of Happiness’, Sonja Lyubomirsky, found that when asking test persons to complete 5 acts of kindness over the course of a day, these people reported back that their happiness levels not only increased, but that the happiness boost continued for several days after the experiment was over!
When you’re happy, you smile. When you smile others get affected and smile too – what’s not to love about this chain reaction?
Just make sure your smile is genuine! Zygomaticus major (the muscle on each side of your face, that raise your lip corners) is involved regardless of which kind of smile you choose to show off to the world – also the fake ones. Genuine smiles of enjoyment, however, require the involvement of orbicularis oculi too (the muscle that circles both of your eyes & lifts your cheeks and creates crow’s feet when contracted). According to American Psychology Professor Barbara Frederickson, showing insincere positivity, i.e. not smiling fully (with the eyes / orbicularis oculi) can be equated to anger when it comes to health. The short version of this specific piece of research is, that anger can cause severe health issues and it turns out insincere positivity / fake smiles can do the same trick. Better stick to the real thing then, huh?
But what if you’re having a really bad day and a smile just feels wrong? Well, you can actually provoke a genuine smile just by doing the facial gestures it requires:
Next time you’re standing in front of a mirror, lift those lip corners and those cheeks. Stay like this for as long as it takes – I promise you you’ll end up smiling ‘just because’ sooner or later and you’ll probably return to whatever you were doing beforehand with lifted spirits and maybe even a huge smile on your face for someone else to receive. (If nothing else, you can smile at the exercise being silly)
So there you have it. Smile fully! For the sake of your health and for the sake of the health of others. Several times a day! A smile is free. It doesn’t cost you a penny and it can make the world of a difference to yourself and those surrounding you.
But then, what if you smile at someone and this person ignores it? Will it make you look like a fool? Absolutely not!
Smiles are beautiful – share them with everyone you meet.