The secrets about smiling that control your life (no, seriously) cover image

The secrets about smiling that control your life (no, seriously)

Dorian Minors • February 19, 2015

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

Smiling seems like a pretty straight forward way to communicate to people that you're happy, or that you want to appear so. What you don't know is that smiles are the master of you far more than you are the master of your smile.

Have you ever met someone with what you might call a 'fake' smile? You might have heard the expression before about someone whose smile doesn’t reach their eyes. Often this is apparent on the face of our customer service representatives; when we order food from 'chirpy' restaurant staff or are greeted by receptionists. That’s because there are, in fact, two kinds of smile.

Mmm, it's certainly the smile that makes her more attractive, not the 'come hither' pose. No wait, it's the fur! Photo courtesy of Tom Blatt (Flickr) Mmm, it's certainly the smile that makes her more attractive, not the 'come hither' pose. No wait, it's the fur! Photo courtesy of Tom Blatt (Flickr)

Professors Paul Ekman and Mark Frank did a great deal of research into this in the mid-1990s. They looked into something called a ‘Duchenne smile’; named after a long-dead French guy who first discovered that when we activate muscles in our eyes and in our mouth when we smile out of genuine happiness. He discovered this by electrocuting people. Ekman and Frank used far less exciting means to find out far more exciting results, including the specific muscles involved and how the activation of these be used to detect deception. Most interestingly, they hit on how we find people who are smiling  those genuine Duchenne smiles more attractive. A little earlier, a study was done that showed if you activate the muscles involved in a smile (by, say, holding a pencil in your mouth), you'll find cartoons funnier than those unactivated or those who held the pencil a little differently to replicate a frown. However, the effect is far more significant when making an alreadypositive experience more positive than for making a negative one more positive. Most recently, this feedback loop has been shown to have an effect on our physical stress levels!

One wonders if this guy ever really found cartoons funny. Photo courtesy of Ted McGrath (Flickr) One wonders if this guy ever really found cartoons funny. Photo courtesy of Ted McGrath (Flickr)

The opposite seems to be true of frowning. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, frowning while watching cartoons makes them less amusing. But if you inhibit our ability to frown (like with botox), we report more happiness and if we frown during something painful, it feels more painful!

Normally I'd do a little 'what does this mean for you' here, but I'm hoping I don't have to. Oh what the heck; smile more and frown less, or your own body is going to betray you.

 Want to read about three hidden things that control your social and romantic relationships? Or four problems men and women have communicating that you could take control of right now? Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and 'the good life' at The Dirt Psychology.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Duncan Marchant (Flickr)

Turning scholarship into wisdom we can use at The Armchair Collective.

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