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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Don’t hide that smile!

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

smiling behind a mask

You can tell whether or not someone is smiling, even when they are wearing a mask. That’s because a true smile brightens up the entire face. The eyes twinkle and the cheeks rise up and out. It’s impossible to hide a real smile.

As I reflected on how much I am missing full facial expressions in our current coronavirus lives, it made me think about the importance of smiling as a form of human communication. I decided to revisit and update a post from 2017 on this important topic.

My original blog opened with this provocative statement: Smiling is one of the quickest, easiest, cheapest, and most effective self-improvement strategies there is.

Try it – smile. Now frown. Which one felt better? Which one looks better?

The when, why, and how of smiling... and lack thereof.

Did you know that the ability to smile is hard-wired; you didn’t need to learn how. All babies, even those born blind and deaf, smile. We begin smiling in the womb, and we begin laughing by 10 weeks.

Four-year-olds smile and laugh once every 4 minutes, or about 400 times a day. By the time we’re adults that number plummets to only about 15-20 times a day. Isn’t that sad?! We lose our sense of humor and the freedom to laugh.

As we “grow up” we’re told to “get serious” which we equate with being solemn and humorless. We’re told to “wipe that smile off your face” and that this is “no laughing matter.” We may be aging ourselves… seriously.

What are the benefits of smiling?

“A smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks almost instantly.” Anonymous

A smile makes you more attractive to the world around you. You appear friendly and open. People will be more likely to pay attention to you, believe you, take your advice or buy what you are selling.

Research has shown that changing our facial expression to one with a smile sets off physiological changes and triggers emotional responses that can actually change our mood. A smile produces pleasant feelings, whereas a pout produces feelings of unhappiness.

Even when you don’t feel particularly cheerful, if you smile, blood flow to the brain increases, and positive neurotransmitters are produced. Smiling tells your brain that things are, “okay.” Smiling makes you feel better.

Smiling and laughing are good for our health

One of the best reasons for smiling and laughing is for our health. As Mary Pettibone Poole describes it, “He who laughs, lasts.” Smiling and laughter relieve stress and strengthen your immune system, increasing your body’s ability to fight off illness - everything from the common cold to cancer.

Smiling and laughing can be considered a form of exercise. Smiling exercises our facial muscles. A hearty laugh gives the muscles of the face, shoulders, diaphragm, and abdomen a good workout.

When we laugh, our blood pressure and heart rate temporarily go up and then remain lower. Oxygen surges throughout our bloodstream. We stretch our lungs, relax our chests, and breathe easier.

Laughter helps fight heart disease. Studies show that people who cope with stress in their lives with a sense of humor are less likely to suffer from heart disease, and people recovering from heart surgery do better with a positive outlook.

Laughing and smiling cause the release of endorphins, which act as pain reducers and give you a high level of alertness. A genuine smile increases the production of serotonin, the happy hormone. It is hard to be grumpy when you’re smiling and laughing. Forcing yourself to smile can actually change your mood and improve your health.

Share a smile

Smiling is not only beneficial to the person who is smiling but to everyone around. If you walk around looking angry you’ll feel that way and make others feel that way too. But, it’s hard not to respond positively to someone who is smiling.

Smiling builds bridges with other people around us. It keeps us from being aloof and separate from one another, it connects us. Babies as young as 3 weeks old recognize smiling as a bonding behavior. Every culture practices smiling, it is a universal language and it’s absolutely free.

The Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch is credited with saying,

“A smile costs nothing, but gives much. It enriches those who receive, without making poorer those who give. It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None is so rich or mighty that he can get along without it, and none is so poor but that he can be made rich by it. A smile creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in business, and is the countersign of friendship. It brings rest to the weary, cheer to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and is nature’s best antidote for trouble. Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is no value to anyone until it is given away.”

Today more than ever, we need to remember to smile and make eye contact, especially when we’re wearing a mask. Smiles are contagious! Share a smile with everyone you meet.

“A smile is the shortest distance between two people.” ~ Victor Borge

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