A Genuine Smile Goes a "Long Way"

A Genuine Smile Goes a "Long Way"

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

A genuine smile is an index of your happiness. So, put in a little more joy in your smile. Reach out to others and give a little more of yourself when you smile next time and the next.

According to Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, there are two kinds of smiles, the "Duchenne smile" and the "Pan American" smile. Here is how Seligman describes the two smiles, "The first called Duchenne smile (after its discoverer Guillaume Duchenne) is genuine. The corners of the mouth turn up and the skin around the corners of your eyes crinkles (the crow's feet). …The other smile, called the Pan American smile (after the flight attendants in television ads for now-defunct airline), is inauthentic." (Authentic Happiness p.5)

In Duchenne smile, the facial muscles involved in are difficult to control voluntarily. Therefore, it's difficult to fake a Duchenne smile unless you smile from within.

The Pan American smile is a perfunctory smile. It is nothing but a courtesy smile as in the case of a flight attendant responding to a patron. It's an expression of courtesy and politeness rather than inner joy. Alas, the Pan Am airline is dead but the smile will live forever.

So how genuinely do you smile when the occasion demands it? Do you habitually put more oomph and joy in your smile? Such a habit might positively influence your health and happiness. There is a study that backs up just such claim.

Psychologists Dacher Keltner and LeeAnne Harker of the University of California at Berkley studied 141 high school senior-class photos from the 1960 yearbook of Mills College. College yearbook photos lend a rich material for smile analysis. Remember how the photographer who comes to take the class photo always asks, "Look at the birdie and smile?" Upon such a request, some instantly break into a radiant smile (Duchenne smile) and others smile perfunctorily for the pose (Pan American smile).

Trained psychologists looked through the Mills College yearbook's 141 photos and separated out the Duchenne from the Pan American smilers. Three women didn't smile at all and had to be dropped out of the study. In the remaining group, the Duchenne smilers and Pan American smilers were fifty-fifty.

All smilers were contacted at age 27, 43 and 52 and asked about the status of their marriage and life satisfaction. Who would think there would be any relationship at all between the smile in a high school photo and the quality of marriage and life satisfaction? The study shows that there might be one, after all.

The women with Duchenne smile were more likely to be married and stay married. They were also more likely to experience greater sense of personal well-being. These results were found to be consistent in a 30-year follow up.

Could the better life outcomes be the result of these women's good looks rather than their Duchenne smile? Researchers investigated that too. They found that good looks had no relationship with the marital status or the life satisfaction.

A habit of genuine smiling may contribute to happiness and better adjustment in life.

Stable and enduring feeling of joy and cheerfulness may also be positively related to longevity and good health according to another study. This comes from the analysis of autobiographical sketches written by the nuns of the School Sisters of Notre Dame at the time of their final vows.

Take for example, the sketches of two nuns, sisters Cecilia and Marguerite. Sister Cecilia, writing about her life experiences used words such as, "very happy" and "eager joy." The life sketch of sister Marguerite contains no such expressions of happiness.

Both lived in the same monastery and had similar life conditions and yet, life outcomes turned out to be very different for them. Sister Marguerite had a stroke at age 59 and died soon after. Sister Cecilia, as per the last report, is still alive at age 98 and has never been sick.

So, are you doing all that you can to form a habit of happiness? The problem is that some people tend to think they can purchase or seize happiness on demand. The comical example of this is a sign on a Robbins and Baskins ice cream place, "Happiness is served here daily."

Drugs, chocolate, clothes, shoes, movies, sex are some other examples of our attempt to grab happiness through "perishable means." Perishable things may give us momentary pleasure but not happiness.

An example of a "durable item" that can lead to a state of happiness is your repeated and consistent acts of kindness to others. Those acts of kindness are like the deposits in your saving account.

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Copyright 2002, Mind Publications 
Posted October 2002