One smile can make all the difference in the world. One smile has the power to relieve stress, calm you down, make you attractive, make someone else happy and believe it or not, smiling can actually cause happiness.
Ndilimeke Nambinga, a Clinical Psychologist, describes a smile as a facial expression that indicates pleasure, favour, or amusement typically with the corners of the mouth turned up and the front teeth exposed.
Smiling comes in different ways and Nambinga says some of them could be grin pleased, winning, and plastic, smirk triumphant, apologetic, flirtatious, smug, loving and painted smiles. She further explains that some smiles could mean embarrassment, approval or welcoming.
Smiling has an effect on your health, success and wellbeing
Scientific research has shown that smiling has some health benefits such as lowering the heart rate, reducing stress, bettering the mood, and increasing productivity, avoiding regret, killing pain and making one look younger. “Smiling slows the heart and relaxes the body. This lets the heart work without overworking. People who smile and laugh often are less likely to develop heart disease. Smiling also temporarily reduces blood pressure,” explains Nambinga.
“We know smiling can greatly improve your mood and reduce stress. Even better, your smile doesn’t have to be real, so you can fake it and still get the same results should the next person not be able to tell that you’re faking it,” says the clinical psychologist. Nambinga states that smiling does not just benefit people on the inside. “It also works to one’s advantage from the outside. Lifting those facial muscles into a smile is also contagious; if you smile and they smile, everyone in the room becomes a little happier,” she adds.
Real and fake smiles, where’s the difference?
As a psychologist, Nambinga notes that there are many known indicators that can help one see when a smile is genuine or fake. She also mentions that it is worth remembering that body language is very important to assess and not just the face.
“One of the key ingredients in a genuine smile is the movement of the orbicularis oculi muscle. This causes the eyes to close. The vast majority of people that fake smile will show no movements in the upper face area. So in the absence of movement in the eyes area, especially if they don’t close, you should suspect the person is possibly faking it,” explains Nambinga.
Another way you can see if a person is faking a smile, Nambinga says is if one can see the bottom teeth in the other person’s mouth. “This is because when you smile and you mean it, the mouth muscle, and the zygomatic major moves upwards. When we fake a smile, we have a tendency to move this muscle outwards, sometimes exposing the bottom teeth. That’s why it’s not a good idea to say “cheeeeeeese” when we take pictures. The word “cheese” forces a fake smile. It’s much better to find a way to make people laugh,” she says.
Paint a smile on one’s face
Nambinga says that there is no single way to make someone smile, although there are many tips on helping to make someone smile. “I always say first assess their current environment or situation; it will give you a hint on what you can do to lighten up their day,” she advices.
One of the easiest and effective ways, she says, to get someone to smile is to smile at them first. Also one can be chivalrous as it is a very simple practice where one endeavours to behave in a kind and courteous way to the people around them and especially to members of the opposite sex. “Again, it is easy to make people feel really good,” says Nambinga.
Also, one has to be self-depreciating as it is one of the best ways to make friends and people smile. “People love it when someone makes self-deprecating jokes because it makes them seem less arrogant and more approachable. But remember, this is supposed to make people smile, not make them feel sorry for you. This act is more about being able to make fun of yourself and take yourself a little less seriously. For example, if you slip over at a restaurant and make a big mess you might make a quick joke like ‘…it was like that when I got here…’ instead of getting all angry and serious and trying to blame someone or something around you,” explains the psychologist.
One of the most powerful things that can improve one’s habit of smiling, Nambinga says, is to interact physically. “This is a truly wonderful way to cheer someone up and brighten their day. Humans are sensual creatures. Their lives are dictated by smells, sights, tastes and sounds. But of all of these senses it seems that the most powerful way to interact with another human is by touch. A shake of the hand or a hug is a big thing because it forces both people to be open to anything. Hugging and touching goes against a lot of our basic survival instincts and that is why, when it is done properly, it is so wonderful,” she says.
Some other habits that are also recommended such as listening to people when they talk, surprises, taking on some of their work, being humble and making good eye contact as it shows trust and demonstrates that you are truly trying to engage the person.
How often should one smile in a day?
Some research has shown that adults tend to smile 7-20 times a day. However, one smile will be a fake smile whereas children smile about nearly 380 times in a day. Nambinga says that there is no equation to say how often people need to smile in a day. “What is key is people realising the importance of smiling and smiling accordingly to one’s own benefit. So smile away,” she notes.
Why is a smile so powerful?
It all comes down to how smiling can change one’s brain. The psychologist says that when a person smiles, their brain becomes aware of the activity and actually keeps track of it. The more you smile, the more effective you are at breaking the brain’s natural tendency to think negatively. If you smile often enough, you end up rewiring your brain to make positive patterns more often than it does negative ones.
“Yes, all of those benefits can come from a simple smile. The more you do it, the more signals your brain will have to mentally shift to positive thoughts even when you might be in a situation that would normally alarm you,” says Nambinga.
Well, after knowing all the health benefits, one can only imagine that the opposite happens when people smile versus not smiling at all. The key thing to also remember here is that when it comes to smiling, there are always cultural aspects that are involved. For instance, some cultures like the Russians do not smile unless there is a valid reason to smile. In some cultures the cultural friendliness of smiling just does not exist. It is not because they are rude it is rather to do with their environment and cultural upbringing just like the Chinese that do not believe in smiling at strangers.
“Scientifically speaking, smiling more is a great thing for your life. It doesn’t cost you anything to do it. Your career might even take a turn for the better as productivity increases, your attention span and cognitive abilities are improved, and you exude competence everywhere you go,” concludes the psychologist.