A smile is a facial expression formed primarily by flexing the muscles at the sides of the mouth.
VERB – To form one’s features into a pleased, kind, or amused expression, typically with the corners of the mouth turned up and the front teeth exposed.
NOUN – An expression on the face in which the ends of the mouth curve up slightly, often with the lips moving apart so that the teeth can be seen; expressing happiness, pleasure, amusement, or a friendly disposition.
So, WHY do we smile? Smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in a way that even chocolate, a well-regarded pleasure-inducer, cannot match.
Smiling, quite simply, can change our brain. So, what happens to our brain when we smile? Well, when we see something that makes us happy or pleases us, neuronal signals travel from the cortex of our brain to the brainstem (the oldest part of our brains). From there, the cranial muscle carries the signal further towards the smiling muscles in your face. Then, once the smiling muscles in our face contract, there is a positive feedback loop that now goes back to the brain and reinforces our feeling of joy. Hence, smiling being more rewarding than chocolate.
Smiling, like most facial expressions, communicates to those around us what we are feeling. It also reduces stress that your body and mind feel, almost similar to getting good sleep, according to recent studies. And smiling helps to generate more positive emotions within you. That’s why we often feel happier around children – they smile more. On average, they do so 400 times a day. Whilst happy people still smile 40-50 times a day, the average of us only smiles 20 times a day.
We humans though, are pretty adept at distinguishing between fake and real smiles. Fake smiles usually only involve the lips and lower part of the face (controlled specifically by the motor cortex). When in certain social situations, we sometimes feel compelled to appear as if we are enjoying ourselves, such as when having to converse with someone we don’t like or enduring events we’re not comfortable attending. Beware though, as mentioned earlier, we can usually detect insincerity, especially within a smile. A REAL smile will always involve the eyes, which will crinkle at the corners, as well as the mouth curving upwards. This type of smile was first identified by Guillaume Duchenne. He realized that a real smile is initiated by the emotional center of our brain and thus involved both the motor cortex and the limbic (emotional) centers of our brain.
Smiling however, is definitely more than just a contraction of muscles in your face. As Mother Teresa said;
“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”
So, give a stranger one of your smile today, it may the only bit of sunshine they see today.