Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Science of a Smile

Mornings are an extremely busy time. I don't find it stressful but it is definitely hectic. On Friday morning, we were stopped at the lights and I smiled to myself. All of a sudden, I felt my whole face relax. I didn't even realize how much tension I was carrying around on my forehead, cheeks and scalp. In fact, I thought I felt that relaxation move down my spine. It felt really good. The lights, changed and I drove off.

At the next lights, I smiled again and once again, I felt some sort of release emanate from my mouth, across my face and scalp and down my spine. After that, I tried a few consecutive smiles and I thought felt the change each time although it diminished with each subsequent smile.

This got me thinking about the simple smile. We like being smiled at - genuinely smiled at and not a leering or crazy looking kind of course. And, I believe most people like smiling - and having the reasons to smile. Its such a powerful little gesture. And probably more powerful than I initially thought after my little experiment last week.

I came across two interesting articles about smiles. Both of them discuss the why and how we smile and its impact on other people. They also talk about fake smiles and how we intuitively recognize them. Unfortunately, neither one really goes in depth about the benefits of a smile to the person doing the smiling - that'll be my experiment. They are longish articles but worth a read through.

The first article, More To A Smile Than Lips And Teeth, is about a team that has tried to build a new scientific model of the smile. This supposedly accounts not only for the source of smiles but also how people perceive them.

Interestingly, the second one was published just 10 days ago and has almost the same title as what I have put on my blog here. Our Social Nature : The Surprising Science of A Smile is an interview with Marianne LaFrance who is the author of "Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex and Politics". I learnt something new from here. There is a single muscle that determines the sincerity of a smile - the obicularis occuli. This encircles the eye socket and is what causes crows feet wrinkles. Supposedly, most people can't deliberately cause a contraction of this muscle. It only happens if you smile from your heart!

Even if you don't read the two articles, try summoning a genuine smile the next time you're caught in traffic or waiting at a check out. You might feel a little silly smiling at nobody but then it might make you laugh and help you make a more genuine smile. See if you feel that release of tension.


Mike said...

I know I've read something about this somewhere. That physically smiling is supposed to be good for you.

Anonymous said...

Too true, I get away will all kinds of ridiculous commentary at the workplace because I wear a pleased to see you grin.
I like people ... especially when I catch them doing something stu ... er ... unusual!

John said...

Thanks for the smile today, Amanda!
(Although, I have to admit that I usually get one from reading your blog.)