“Peace begins with a smile.” -Mother Teresa
“Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.” -Mark Twain
It seems that humanity has always been enamored with the smile. It is the universal language of good will. From peacemaking to flirting, the smile is an invitation of sorts, to meet in the middle. From the mysterious smile of the Mona Lisa to the brilliant, toothy grin of Julia Roberts, it is captivating.
I found a debate online about the obvious lack of smiles in early photography compared to the flamboyant smiles of today on the covers of American magazines. There are many theories among the smile enthusiasts. The two most reasonable center around the bad dental care in earlier centuries and secondly, that the ostentatious, vainglorious American culture of today idolizes the insincere but beautiful smile on the outside that endeavors to hide the ugly truth within.
I think it’s a little from column A, a little from column B. And both theories have a big miss on the true beauty, the sweet nature, and the compelling pull of an authentic smile.
Mark Stibich, Ph.D, wrote about the top 10 reasons to smile. In summary, he wrote that smiling does 10 incredible things for us: smiling makes us attractive, changes our mood, is contagious, relieves stress, boosts our immune system, lowers blood pressure, releases natural pain killers and seratonin, lifts the face and makes you look younger, makes you seem successful, and helps you stay positive.
I think there is an art to the smile. In the Oxford English Dictionary, art is “the expression of creative skill,” but we all know art is so much more than that. Art is an expression of who we are, what we are wrestling with, what we think. And art never happens without intent; the artist must have discipline or he never really creates.
I noticed recently that a friend of mine has very marked concern lines on his forehead. And I saw that the look of concern was the very first look that came to his face at each and every encounter or discussion. What did I look like when I wasn’t paying attention? What was my go-to face? Concern? Anxiety? Inanity? And what did that say about what was going on underneath? Taking into consideration the things that I had been pondering about the smile, I decided to embark on an experiment. A dangerous one.
For one week, I would smile more intentionally. I would try to make my “resting face” a pleasant one. Not fake, just pleasant. I would make an effort to be more conscious of my facial expression. It actually takes more muscles in the face to frown than to smile, and the wrinkles from smiles are a hundred times more attractive than frowning ones… So why not give it a whirl?
I must admit, I entered into this with not a little fear and trembling because I live in New York City where anything and everything can and does happen. So this had the potential of becoming an experiment on steroids.
It was an entertaining week to say the least. And it was fun. I felt more aware of life in general because I was trying to create a new habit. I wasn’t just surviving, but living. And watching.
I had a couple comments from Starbucks employees that it was nice to serve someone who was happy. I saw many more people smile around me than I had ever noticed before (evidence to the smile’s contagious nature). I had better customer service at most places that are frantic like McDonald’s and grocery stores. A couple people offered me their seat on the subway when it was crowded (that never happens). And I was more aware of kindnesses shown to me and when they weren’t, I didn’t really care.
And my favorite, funniest moment, was when I was in the grocery store. I was holding an enormous bunch of groceries in my arms because I had made the erroneous judgment that I didn’t really need a basket. As I was getting up to the counter, a man came over and nodded to my groceries and said, “Hi. How about instead of all that, I take you to lunch?” I looked down at my humorous armful of goodies including a large, unfortunately phallic roll of polenta and stammered with striking wit, “Uh, thanks.” Then continued on slightly more smoothly with, “I am extremely flattered, but extremely married. But thank you.” He smiled and said, “You just have a great smile, really beautiful. Have a great day.” And I did.
And because I feel that it is a moral imperative to add, my husband didn’t like the polenta. But he did say that I do indeed have a great smile.
The experiment was an interesting success. And I highly recommend it. I abhor inauthentic happiness – but that’s not what I’m talking about. I think the art of the smile is a worthy sort of art form and one that I wish to pursue. I did indeed feel all of the above top 10 reasons to smile.
My husband has a theory that as you age, you lose the capacity to hide who you really are. As I’ve talked with many elderly relatives and friends,it seems there is something to that. So many people fall sharply in the embittered and brittle category, or to the vastly opposite side where their delightfully wrinkled countenances have the extensive history of their smiles written in their face of today. I admire that. I see the peaceful and pleasant face of the ninety-five-year-old that I hope to be one day.