by José Manuel Ríos Valiente, Flickr CC License

Lately I’ve been finding myself more curious about the band posters posted in my neighborhood. Mostly they feature someone or a band of people somewhat sneering at the camera, Ke$ha style. Normally I wouldn’t think twice about it, except I just started seeing it everywhere– badasses on telephone polls, badasses in clothing store windows, wherever– just anywhere someone wanted something to look cool. And it just hit me, this is what we’re all trying to emulate? Is it actually uncool to be seen smiling?

I’m reminded of a patient I had once, who I encouraged during a Reiki treatment to smile at her gallbladder. (It’s really not an uncommon phenomenon in qi gong practice.) She scoffed. What was more amazing is when I consulted with a colleague, she misunderstood me and thought the patient suggested smiling to her own gallbladder– to which my colleague laughed. I hadn’t realized that taking the time to see what’s inside us with kindness was laughable to most people. And not even the kind of laugh that brings a genuine smile to one’s face!

Ekman and Friesen conducted research in the 1980’s that was able to show the marked differentiation between “enjoyment [or felt] smiles” and “false [or masking] smiles.” They found the muscles around the eyes, in particular the zygomatic and orbicularis oculi muscles, would only contract during smiles spontaneously occurring with positive emotion. Our eyes can’t fake it! (Think you’re good at spotting the truth? Check out some photos….) What’s more fascinating, is Kleinke, Peterson, and Rutledge found in the late 1990’s that for self-aware folks, mimicking another individual’s positive or negative facial expressions directly resulted in their feeling positive and negative emotions. In other words, just trying on an authentic smile (remember to engage those crow’s feet!) is enough to evoke positive emotion. They also found this sense of positive affect was further increased when participants saw themselves in a mirror. This underscores for me that not only is something happening physically that is affecting the emotional body, but that seeing truly is believing. When we see that something is possible, that, for example, we can be happy, we are that much more open to being happy. And what’s super cool? Our happiness has been shown to reach almost three degrees of separation— causing those around us to feel happier, too. (I love the author’s note, page 8, that likens the reach of happiness to that of obesity and smoking behavior.)

So, let’s just step back for a minute – and think, if our emotions can be affected by the faces we see every day (think: mirror neurons); and we’re constantly looking at pictures and billboards and posters of scowling people; and the mood we’re trying on can affect three degrees of separation… WHOA! This is more serious than I thought! You could almost say there’s a contagion out there that is plaguing people with hardness. That just to face the world, we have to process an array of emotion. And more than ever, it’s important to prioritize kindess; to prioritize a kind smile towards yourself and others. The deeper that smile, the more we encourage those around us to try on deeper and deeper depths of happiness. So, smile at your gallbladder. Smile at your pinky toe. Smile at your inner organs and top layers. Anything and everything that deserves feeling good, feeling appreciated, feeling loved. Your shared happiness may be the cheapest and most meaningful investment you make in yourself and in those around you!

Need more encouragement? Let martial artist Gene Dreyer show you how to be a real badass!


  1. rtcap August 2, 2012

    What a great post! I’d heard of the smiling experiments before, but this was a wonderful and insightful context to put them in. Lovely!

    1. Thank you for sharing your happiness with me! I’m delighted you appreciated my sentiments, and that out of it we both get to leave a wake of joy around us. High-five to joy!

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