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Saturday, May 14, 2016

But what if you smile too much?!

I am thinking about smiling, but what if I smile too much?
Will smiling benefit me and others? 
Will smiling change my behavior?
Will I create a permanent smile on my face that won't allow me to express my authentic feelings in the future?
What's the point in smiling?

It would seem that a smile would be an outward projection of inward joy, contentment and happiness. From living and growing, we can see that people can use smiles as a response to discomfort. We may want to smile just to appease the people we spend time with. We certainly don't want to be sad and depressed around the people we love. We can use smiles as a mask for our insecurities.

Wouldn't it be a better and happier world if everyone around could smile more often?
Ideally, this concept seems pretty airtight, but it blinds us from emotional intelligence and places us in a trap of utopian ideals. It doesn't make logical sense to have everyone smile because it would devalue the authenticity of a "real" smile.

If someone angers us or makes us feel uncomfortable, we may smile as a protection from us revealing our animosities and internal aggressions. At this point, a smile is merely a gesture of repression and resistance. I can say that I have been guilty of this behavior. If it is not worth the conflict ( which most of the time it never is ) it is best to keep the peace and simply move on.

When we can recognize an authentic smile, we can learn to appreciate the meaning behind it. An authentic smile will automatically make us smile. When we are present and vulnerable, a mutual smile can be an amazing gift.

So, is it ever appropriate to tell someone to smile?

Telling someone to smile is not based in understanding. It is trying to get someone to do something that you want to do. It has roots in authoritarianism and manipulation. On the outside, telling someone to smile seems relatively harmless. People are responsible for their own emotional state. If someone doesn't like someone else smiling, it is not their duty to try to change that. This seems obvious, but many people like to create a world they want to see, while disregarding other people's emotions and intentions. Manipulating and commanding behavior is just a reflection of their own unchecked insecurities.

What are some of the benefits to smiling?

According to some research done by psychologists at the University of Cardiff in Wales, people with botox treatment had more of a benefit to their general well being when they were "forced" to smile due to the preventative nature of the botox injections. 

An article in the Scientific America written by Melinda Wenner states, 

“It would appear that the way we feel emotions isn’t just restricted to our brain—there are parts of our bodies that help and reinforce the feelings we’re having,” says Michael Lewis, a co-author of the study. “It’s like a feedback loop.” In a related study from March, scientists at the Technical University of Munich in Germany scanned botox recipients with fMRI machines while asking them to mimic angry faces. They found that the botox subjects had much lower activity in the brain circuits involved in emotional processing and responses—in the amygdala, hypothalamus and parts of the brain stem—as compared with controls who had not received treatment."

Smiles beget Smiles.
This brings up some interesting points. Can forcing a smile actually change our physiology and trick our brains into feeling better? Can smiling be a coping mechanism for our anxiety, fear and depression?  

What we can gather from this article is that if we constantly practice the act of smiling, we can perpetuate a general sense of well being. We can see smiling as a way to realign ourselves to the present moment much like mindful breathing techniques and mantra like meditation practices. With this in mind, it makes more logical sense to smile than frown because of the long term effects on our neural networks and our balanced emotional states. 

Eric Jaffe, from the Association of Psychological Science breaks down the science of what happens with the smile in the context of human physiology. Eric beautifully says, "A smile begins in our sensory corridors. The earcollects a whispered word. The eyes spot an old friend on the station platform. The hand feels the pressure of another hand. This emotional data funnels to the brain, exciting the left anterior temporal region in particular, then smolders to the surface of the face, where two muscles, standing at attention, are roused into action: The zygomatic major, which resides in the cheek, tugs the lips upward, and the orbicularis oculi, which encircles the eye socket, squeezes the outside corners into the shape of a crow’s foot. The entire event is short — typically lasting from two-thirds of a second to four seconds — and those who witness it often respond by mirroring the action, and smiling back."

The last part of this quote points to some very interesting details. The length of a smile is pretty short, but the impact can bring great reward. The data that stimulates the brain has a beneficial effect. It also illustrates the "humanness" we all share. It is a gift to be able to recognize and appreciate smiling. The fact that we are able to smile at all is truly remarkable.

Smile Variances 

There is a vast spectrum of different smiles that we can study and appreciate. Much like faces, the smile possibilities are endless. This makes the smile such an interesting and amazing feature of evolution. People can show a smile with teeth or smile like a grin on that veers toward one side. People can flare their nostrils when smiling and lift their eyebrows. The smile changes the totality of the face that most of the time has a positive effect for the people able to witness it.

Eric Jaffe talks about a smile common in Art History. The Mona Lisa Smile. This may be one of the most famous and "natural smiles" we have seen throughout the awareness of smiling.

"Other muscles can simulate a smile, but only the peculiar tango of the zygomatic major and the orbicularis oculi produces a genuine expression of positive emotion. Psychologists call this the “Duchenne smile,” and most consider it the sole indicator of true enjoyment"

Since there are specific names of smiles, we can truly inform ourselves on the outward expression of people's inner chemical reactions. 

 Smile Attraction

Most of us have heard that, "Smiling is Contagious". At first this seems like a stale platitude, but it could have some reasonable evidence for itself. When we smile, we are projecting some type of outward appearance. We are creatures that learn by mimicry. We have evolved to imitate behaviors from a young age. It is no surprise that when we see a smile, we might smile back. This sometimes happens without us knowing it or controlling it. It is learned from past experiences and written into our genes. When we smile, we are sending out a vibe through physical signals. We are reacting to the inward processing of outward information. We have the ability attract what we send out and give. The act of smiling ( spontaneous or conscious ) can attract certain people and situations into our life.

Jaffe writes, "Another function of smiling (and one that anecdotal evidence supports) is that it enhances our attractiveness. One of the most famous characters in American letters, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby, had an irresistible smile that “assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.” For its part, science has identified part of the reason for a great smile’s allure. A recent fMRI study found that viewing attractive faces activated the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, a region involved in processing sensory rewards. While this held true for all pretty mugs, the activity in this region was even stronger when the face in focus wore a smile. “The presence of a smile may provide an important signal that a reward is or is not attainable,” the researchers wrote in a Neuropsychologia (2003). Although some might argue that the brain, in seeing a smile, has already considered the reward attained."

The last part of this quote has some interesting implications. Our brains get a sense of "reward" when we analyze a smile. Most of this is done within the brain involuntarily. The only thing we can do is to recognize it and be mindful of it. This is one of the benefits of being conscious, aware and present. It is so fascinating to even be aware of the science of the smile.


With all the research that has gone into the mechanics of smiling, is there a good reason to smile?
We can logically look at the data in context and try to apply it to events in the real world, but sometimes it doesn't quite work. We may know that smiling might boost our "reward centers" and ultimately have a better physiological and psychological impact on us than "not smiling", but we sometimes want to hold on to our present emotional state. You may be angry or sad and feel that smiling is an unfruitful type of expression. This is because of your resistance to the present moment. When you are caught up in "mind games" and compulsive thought, you cannot allow yourself to be present. You can't be angry and happy at the same time. You can't be caught up in the past and be in the present moment at the same time, either.

When you step back from your habitual passing mood type behaviour, you can see the madness in the ego and self. You can make the choice to recognize and question why certain things are preventing you from being present. Try to smile when you are angry. Look at how it affects your moods. Let your anger pass and be with it. Do not act on it, but let it come and inform you. Do not resist. These emotions can be awesome teachers. Smile at the anger, whether it be "in your head" or on your face. Do not see the smile as a way to resist the emotional state. Smiling at transient emotions will allow for inner growth to happen and presence to enter.

The truth is, you do not need a reason to smile. When you place reasons to smile, you are making a smile a means to an end. Smiling becomes arduous and tedious when it turns into a task. A smile as a task will eventually lose it's flavor and essence. You will trick your reward center and foster a dependency on smiling as a coping mechanism. Be aware of when you smile and why you are smiling. See what it does to your inner being. See what it does to your body. Feel it. Do not try to hold onto it, but be aware and let everything "be". Smiling just to smile will lead to a more conscious and fulfilling life.

The Smile as a reflection of gratitude 

 When we can switch our brain chemistry to gratitude and away from the worrying monkey mind by practicing gratitude. When we practice gratitude, we focus our attention on what we already "have".
Gratitude does not focus on attainment of the lust for more material and mental goods. Being grateful can have a profound effect on your life. Here is an interesting exercise.

Think of a few things you are grateful for and close your eyes. Take in a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds. Breathe out and see what happens.

Did you smile? Did you get a sense of calming and contentment in your mind? What happened to your body when you practiced this gratitude exercise?

When you are grateful, smiling comes as a gift and a byproduct.

When you are present, joy is a byproduct as well.

Author Cynthia Morton describes what joy is in a profound way.

" Without emotional habits that we engage in regularly to re-ignite our heart with pure JOY, we may not be able to disengage our head from work and problem solving thoughts. We become stressed and although physically present our hearts JOY is muted if we can't turn our head off off from work or life problems. Emotional habits that create the most JOY have no cost for they add to our lives not take from it. JOY is also a byproduct of the present moment. When we pause from striving, reminiscing or focusing on others and actually pay attention to our here and now with a grateful heart, JOY rises up, like popcorn!"

Awareness brings presence.
Presence brings joy.
Joy brings smiling.
We send out those vibrations.

Smiling is great and an awesome thing to see and experience.
The most important this is that we become more aware and elevate our consciousness.
We can experience the broad spectrum of human emotion and know that we can always smile.
We can choose to move towards a more conscious life or get stuck in an unmindful habitual existence.

So, again, What if I smile too much? ( This is mostly a silly rhetorical question. )

Well, you certainly can't. Let the smiles be smiles and appreciate them for what they are and what they can GIVE. 

Instead of telling someone or manipulating someone to smile, we can shift our focus to appreciation.
Instead of commanding someone to perform a facial gymnastic, we can show them that we are grateful for their presence. Accept and treat the people that don't smile the same as the giddy grinning people.

See what happens when you just say, " I appreciate you."

You may not get a smile out of it, but that's the point.
Smiling or not, there is always plenty of love to go around.



Wenner, Melinda.

Jaffe, Eric. 2010.

Morton, Cynthia. 2014.

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