Why Don’t You smile?

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Photo by Hian-Oliveira from unsplash

The most recurring question I have been asked most in my life

Are you okay? Are you having fun? If/when I reply with a yes, are you sure? Why do you look bored and the most daunting-Why do you look serious? (really?).

I recently went out with a group of friends to a club. I was having a blast just like everyone else but in a more chilled way, nodding to the sound of music; tapping my foot and moving my lips in tune with the lyrics little did I know I was committing a grave sin by not smiling in all of that. Then, I got asked why I was not smiling by virtually everyone that came across me including the security personnel.

Then it hit me…

I mean I’m no Victoria Beckham but this happens all the time both when it’s needed and not. In the lecture room during uni days, church, at work, even during formal meetings; at clubs, cinemas and other small public gatherings. All these places and more except at home or by loved ones. Which begs the question..

Is there supposed to be a specific countenance to portray for specific places you visit? If yes, what are the benefits and to whom?

Don’t get me wrong, these questions are probably valid coming from a sincere and concerned place. But why do I have to smile when it’s not in my nature to and unnecessarily too?

Smiling has it’s benefits. Numerous scientists and psychologists have not failed in postulating both the scientific and non scientific benefits with regards to smiling and I will outline a few of them in a bit

Smile is one of the basic, biologically methods of expression/communication. Studies performed at Uppscale University in Sweden between 2002 and 2011 found that smiling can be contagious in the sense that someone’s smile can actually suppress the control the surrounding people have over their facial muscles inducing them to equally smile.

According to Charles Darwin, smiling involves a facial feedback mechanism in such a way that smiling stimulates the brain’s reward mechanism similar to receiving money or consuming chocolate.

To explain it further, when there’s a trigger to smile, for instance meeting a friend you haven’t seen in a long while or receiving a compliment from a friend/colleague, the neuronal signals travel from the cortex of the brain to the brain stem. From here, the signal gets carried to the smiling muscles; zygomaticus major which is responsible for the fake/ social smile and oblicularis occuli which is responsible for the genuine/Duchenne smile.

Once any of these muscles contract based on the signal to, there’s a feedback loop which goes back to the brain and activate the pleasurable/joyful feeling and vice-versa. In essence, in accordance with various researchers and a recent research from the University of Missouri-kansas City (UKMC)

  1. Smiling makes one look younger based on the physiological attribute on the face with so doing. It provides a mini face-lift.
  2. Smiling improves one’s mood through the release of the brain’s “happy” chemicals such as dopamine, endorphins and serotonin similar to the pleasure received after exercise or reward.
  3. Smiling can make one look thinner as a frowning face often appeared heavier.
  4. Smiling makes one appear likeable and courteous.
  5. Smiling can predict one’s lifespan as concluded by a research done in Wayne State University 2010 which found that players who smiled often lived an average life of 80 years compared to players who didn’t and lived an average of 72.9 years..

The list goes on…

Bearing these benefits in mind, paradoxically, I believe also that forcing a smile is not enough to make one look happy on the outside; it does not necessarily equate to mood elevation and positivity not to mention when it’s fake and likewise frowning.

This contradicts previous studies from over 2 decades ago which analysed the different types of smile and their inducers. This was called the Pen-experiment. Now, before I further delve into explaining this experiment, it is noteworthy to understand that there are fundamental skills one develops as they they grow to be able differentiate a fake smile from a real one. Researchers in Germany and UK showed that children in their early stages of development (2-5 years specifically) become better at differentiating between smiles and relating them to social skills.

In conjunction to this, is the Pen-experiment I earlier mentioned which was conducted in 1998. This tasked participants to hold a pen between their teeth-inducing them to grin and other participants to hold a pen between their lips to induce frowning. These participants were then shown cartoon characters and asked to rate how funny they were.

It was found that those participants who were induced to grin giggled at the cartoons compared to those induced to frown.

This supports the lists of benefits of smiling as aforementioned

However, a new version of the experiment rerun by scientists from the University of Amsterdam proved a more nuanced — almost an opposite conclusion compared to the original report. The new version required participants to hold pens between their teeth to induce grinning as with the original experiment. But this time, they were firstly tasked to engage in a mundane activity such as underlining vowels and various numbers prior to being asked to rate cartoons displayed to them on a computer this time.

The study found that the results from almost 1900 participants were not consistent with that of the original study as there was no evidence to suggest inducing particular facial expressions led participants to rate the cartoons differently.

What am I trying to say?

Smiling is not always indicative of joy/pleasure neither is not-smiling. Realness comes from being yourself of which wearing a fake/social smile which by now, with this post and many others, people can clearly differentiate- is not always worth it.

Personally, I find it tedious to have to force any muscle of mine to move when I’m not in the mood. Why do I have to smile whilst in church, in the middle of a serious meeting (I repeat, most daunting!) Or smile whilst working out or merely tired when there’s no actual reason to?.

Why?

I may not necessarily be frowing but I also may not need to smile. For me, it’s awkward and a bit bothersome to get bombarded with this question(s) all the time.

Perhaps I’m a Victoria Beckham after all..

“I’m always smiling inside”

Perhaps I have a duty to the writing community, the patients whom I attend to during work at the hospital and likewise other personal life engagements that I feel responsible towards that I’m too busy to smile.

Whatever it is, people need to give it a rest and understand that not-smiling is not frowning or being sad but purely one’s nature perhaps due to a default in inculcating these developmental habit from childhood and likewise unequating smile to joy because chances are, the ones with the saddest deepest issues, not excluding the psychotic serial killers and so on we watch everyday on NCIS are the ones who smile prettily before “butchering”.

Now you know all these, are you going to learn to stop asking or wondering or at least minimize judging the next person to you who isn’t smiling?

What is it going to be?

Comment

  • Excellent post. I will be facing some of these issues as well.. Ulrica Jammal Spatola

    Reply

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