How to (Literally) Smile
A less-masked future is near, and our facial expressions will matter more than ever
As vaccination rates increase, we’re getting closer to a future where masks are less of a presence in our lives, and our smiles (and non-smiles) will once again be visible to friends, co-workers, and the strangers we pass on the sidewalk and in the grocery store.
If that sentence didn’t make you smile, please keep reading.
Until I looked into smiling while researching my book Works Well With Others, I didn’t realize how powerful a force it is. The simple act of smiling can change you and everyone around you, and that’s true now more than ever. A smile — the kind that happens because you mean it, not because some passing jerk on the street is yelling at you to produce one — can make you feel instantly happier. It can make others happier, too. It fosters connection. Smiling is inherently hopeful and generous, two qualities everyday life in the last year has crucially lacked. In our less-masked future, it will signal a kind of normalcy.
And there’s a right way to do it.
How to smile
Okay, ready? Smile.
There’s a reason being told to smile almost always has the opposite effect. And since you’re responding to instruction and not something that actually makes you happy, any smile you can conjure up is probably not what the psychologists call a “true” smile (or a “Duchenne” smile, after the pioneering 19th-century French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne).
When you don’t like the way you look in a photo, it’s probably because you’re smiling this way. You’re contracting a muscle called the zygomaticus major, which pulls up the corners of your mouth, but you’re not involving the orbicularis oculi, the muscles that cause the corners of your eyes to crinkle. The orbicularis oculi are very difficult to contract voluntarily. You almost always need to be actually delighted in order for them to engage. And they’re what lets people know you’re truly happy.
So, think of something that delights you. A child with a balloon. If you don’t like children, maybe just a balloon.