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Smile Your Way to Happiness

Think about what a smile does for you. It attracts people. It says to the world “I’m a happy, confident, competent, satisfied person.” It makes it easier to build a support network — people who will rally to your side when adversity strikes. It helps you transcend difficult times. It lets others know at a glance that you’re optimistic and conscientious. It conveys a feeling of power — potency, vitality, and hardiness.

If you portray false smiles — lying smiles, angry smiles, smiles that try to hide how miserable you feel — you do so because you have to in order to keep dealing with the world in a dishonest way. These types of smiles, in effect, disempower you because the world can never know your true self. Instead, smile because you want to because of all the positive benefits that come your way.

If you have a family, one of the shared benefits of a smile is that it says without words, “We’re in this together,” which is the mantra of a happy family.

Identify who or what makes you smile

People’s understanding of the relationship between life circumstances and positive emotion is not as precise as it should be.

One simple, easy way to identify your particular sources of happiness is to rummage through old photographs and cull out the ones where you’re smiling. Some of those will no doubt be pictures of family gatherings where everyone is posing for the camera. But other pictures may capture moments of genuine happiness, as evidenced by the Duchenne smile on your face.

Examine those photographs carefully and ask yourself what the common threads are that connect them. For example, maybe whenever you’re in the company of certain people or whenever you’re engaged in some particular activity, you’re smiling. What you’re looking for here is a pattern — something that repeats itself.

These pictures may come in handy in another way. If you have them scattered throughout your home or office, each time you look at them you’ll momentarily reconnect with the memory of those happy occasions — and, that will bring a smile to your face.

Face-making 101: Start with a smile and go from there

People are trained to think that emotions lead to actions — in other words, the outward expression of those inner feelings. And that’s true. But it’s equally true that actions can lead to emotions. An irritated individual who starts yelling and flailing about like a wild man will quickly find himself experiencing much more intense anger.

If he doesn’t want to accelerate to the point of rage, he needs to talk in a reasonable tone of voice without all the aggressive gestures. Talking about something sad that has happened to another person can bring on a spontaneous feeling of sadness within yourself. And, believe it or not, you can make yourself happy simply by making a happy face.

Put a smile on your face and hold it for 20 or 30 seconds and then relax your face. Repeat this smiling exercise 10 to 20 times and see if you don’t suddenly feel more positive. Better yet, do this exercise in front of a mirror so that you can experience what psychologists call facial feedback — that is, your emotions begin to conform to your facial features.

The smile exercise is no different than any other form of exercise. The more you do it, the easier it gets. What begins as contrived eventually becomes natural.

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