Healthy Living: Smiling

It was just recently that the subject of smiling became prominent to me as a result of a personal experience. One evening, as my husband and I stood in line behind a group of seven or eight people waiting to be seated for dinner at a popular restaurant, one of the men directly in front of me spoke loudly, joking with his companions, then suddenly turned and said to me, “Smile, why don’t you! Nothing can be that bad! It won’t be long, and we’ll all get seated!” The confrontation stunned me. I did not know this man, and I had no idea that my facial expressions were that negatively revealing. I was not upset, maybe just a bit impatient at the long wait. Not long after this, I again experienced such a reminder from a lady standing in front of me in a long line at the market. She gently said to me, “Try smiling; it helps.” This time I was irritable, and grumpy, too. The lines were all too long and too few checkers attending. It was time for me to take personal inventory. Why am I getting these reminders from people I do not even know, reminding me that my facial expressions are revealing far too much negative emotion? First of all, we all know that the aging face does advance its downward drooping, yet there seems to be more to this. My computer provided me with ample information on the science of smiling. I quickly learned that smiling can trigger the pleasure center of the brain, releasing feel-good neurotransmitters. Dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin relax your body and lower your heart rate and your blood pressure.

Researchers are studying just about everything these days, and believe it or not, smiling is one of the subjects being scrutinized. They are finding the art of smiling is not only a sign of being happy, but it can actually make you happy. Smiling makes you appear more attractive, it lifts your moods and actually extends your life. Smile therapy goes into understanding what they describe as a “standard smile” is one where both corners of the person’s mouth are slightly upturned, with the mouth closed. In the mid-1800s, a French biologist by the name of Duchenne described the full facial smile with both upturned corners as well as scrunched eyes which then became known as “the Duchenne smile.”

That smiley face which has been so widely publicized was created back in 1963 by Harvey Bell to help raise the morale of employees of the State Mutual LIfe Assurance Company in Massachusetts. And the smiley face in the Pain Scale we health professional staff frequently use to try to measure their pain level features six round faces depicting pain intensity scoring 0 – 10. In 2015, smiley was added to the computer programming as an emoji, compounding its popularity.

I have begun my own personalized program of practicing to smile more in hopes that my new practice might just “turn my frown upside down”!

Christine Harness has worked in the field of Occupational Therapy throughout her adult life, both in and outside of the Kern River Valley. She has helped countless individuals to maintain or regain their independence. Christine believes that enjoying and taking satisfaction in one’s day-to-day activities is the key to a meaningful life.