The Art Of Smiling: How To Live Longer & Die Happier
“I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish.” Mother Teresa
Researchers say that children smile at least 400 times a day.
Adults? Perhaps 20 … if lucky.
This may be an urban myth, but even if the numbers are out … what does it mean for those who smile big, broad and bountiful smiles and those who think a grimace gets them by?
Harvey Ball, (1921–2001) created the “Smiley Face” in 1963 for an insurance company suffering from low morale after a takeover. It worked.
If Ball had patented his design (originally commissioned for $45), he’d have become a millionaire.
Instead, he created a legacy aimed at ‘Improving this world one smile at a time’.
Harvey Ball believed each of us can make a positive difference in this world. He knew it was the little acts that are important and understood the power of a smile.
What’s most interesting about the original smiley image is that Ball drew the face’s eyes and mouth off-centre. The left eye is smaller than the right. The mouth lop-sided. Ball believed this imperfection made it more human, and therefore more relatable.
Smile Research Reflects This Thinking
A genuine smile is contagious.
Full of wrinkles. And plenty of upward cheek movement.
This smile even has its own name: a Duchenne smile — named after French physician Guillaume Duchenne, who studied the physiology of facial expressions in the nineteenth century using … electrical currents.
These currents stimulated muscle contraction in his subjects. This led to the discovery of two facial muscles — one involving the eyes and cheeks, the other the corners of the mouth — as responsible for smiling.
Duchenne’s name is now synonymous with the broad genuine smile that uses both facial muscles.
Images below is from his research.
Here’s The Story Behind The Smile (Without Electric Currents To Stimulate It)
A simple smile — nature’s gift to human kind — is said to lift the spirits of the smiler and those receiving it.
Genuine smiling is associated with cortisone release (the body’s natural ‘happy’ drug). The simple act of curving one’s lips into a broad smile and letting the eyes crinkle sends a message to the brain that something’s going well.
In turn the brain releases cortisone. It doesn’t take long for this to kick-in and give the smiler a feeling of greater calmness or happiness. (This is the easier-to-understand layman version — not the neuro-psyche version.)
Because of this beautiful mind-body association, the act of smiling relieves stress, boosts the immune system and lowers blood pressure.
Your Smile = Your Lifeline
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
― Dr. Seuss
Forget palm reading.
If you want to find out how long you’re going to live, get out your old college yearbook and measure your smile.
In 1960 researchers, Keltner and Harker, looked at 141 women’s smiles from a college yearbook.
They split the photographs into two categories: one for the Duchenne smilers, the other for the ‘polite smilers’.
Follow-ups then occurred with the women at ages 27, 43 and 52.
Their findings? General well being and marriage satisfaction were higher for the Duchenne smilers … even up to 30 years later.
A baseball card study linked the width of a player’s smile with how long they lived. Those who posed with a Duchenne smile lived on average 7 years longer than those who didn’t.
“Life is like a mirror. We get the best results when we smile.” (source: unknown)
A quick experiment. Grab a pencil or pen … (or chopstick). Put it between your teeth.
Now try to smile.
The result? A ‘polite smile’ that no one believes is genuine.
Can You Trust A Smile?
Researchers (at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in France) asked subjects to hold a pencil between their teeth while viewing pictures of faces. Some of the faces showed genuine smiles, others didn’t.
The subjects’ task was to judge whether the smiles they were looking at were genuine or not (while keeping the pencil between their teeth).
Most of the subjects experienced difficulty telling the difference between the genuine smile and the fake one.
Because the subjects couldn’t mirror or mimic the smiles they saw. Holding a pencil between their teeth stopped them doing an internal check for congruency.
Note: Fake smiles are costly. They keep you out of sync with your own emotions and the emotions of others.
How Empathy And Smiles Work In Tandem
“Mirroring is relevant to our tendency to be empathetic. When I see you smiling, my mirror neurons for smiling fire up, and I get your state of mind right away. I feel it as you feel it. We need that mirroring in order to create a full empathic response to other people. If your baby cries, you don’t want the caregiver to cry back at the baby. You want the caregiver to feel the pain of the baby, but be proactive. A simple instinctive kind of reaction to the emotions of others has bearing on a much more reasoned pro-social behavior.” (http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/marco-iacoboni-mirror-neurons)
Researcher, Dr Niedenthal, describes 3 ways your brain does this:
- Our brain compares the geometry of a person’s face to a standard smile
- We think about the situation and judge whether a smile is expected.
- Most importantly: We automatically mimic the smile, to feel whether it is fake or real. If it’s real, our brain will activate the same areas from the smiler and we can identify it as a real one.
The Art of Smiling
“Elizabeth Layton is the van Gogh of contour drawing.”
— The Washington Times
One of my super heros is Elizabeth Layton. A woman who experienced depression from a young age until discovering an art class on contour drawing.
Elizabeth, also known as Grandma Layton, drew her first self-portrait at age 68 using contour drawing.
Layton drew herself as a hag — a woman uncomfortable in her own skin. Yet the experience of drawing her own face stayed with her. She felt compelled to continue.
“I don’t know where it came from, but I had this sense of urgency to keep drawing.” Elizabeth Layton
Within the next year, a more serene face appeared in Layton’s drawings as her depression lifted. The ‘hag’ she originally felt like had transformed into a confident, lively woman with a positive and outward-looking view of life.
Discovering her creativity (which is in all of us) released what 13 electric shock treatments, 10 years of psychotherapy and antidepressant drug treatment couldn’t.
From hiding in her closet and feeling unworthy for life, Layton emerged as a vibrant woman whose work has appeared in the Smithsonian Institute of Art.
Finding your creativity can free your inner smile.
Here’s 3 key take-aways:
- As Harvey Ball instinctively knew — the crooked, out-of-balance smile can be more relatable, trustworthy and inspiring of deep joy than the perfect wrinkle-free one.
- Science has shown us that smiling changes our body’s chemistry in positive ways.
- Elizabeth Layton is proof that change through creativity is possible.
So let’s see if it’s possible to smile more often, more genuinely and more impulsively. Think it’s possible? Your health and wellness rely on it.
You can discover more about freeing your creative mind and engaging your smile with some contour drawing fun.