I’m not here to tell you that when you “smile, the world will smile with you.” Though I happen to agree with this assertion, what interests me more is the impact our smiles can have on ourselves.
When listening to something you don’t agree with, participating in something that makes you feel uncomfortable or speaking with someone who intimidates you, pause and evaluate what your body looks like.
These are just some examples of the kind of scenarios in which we could place ourselves to understand the negative body language we put off. Crossed arms, head down, hunched back and blank expressions are typical negative behaviors. It’s a primitive response and it's about as hardwired into us as any other survival instinct.
Smiling can be infectious; we know this. When we do it, others see it and in turn, feel it. It facilitates better interactions with others and allows us to connect on a deeper level.
Perhaps of greater significance, though, smiling can amazing things for us, especially amidst difficult or trying circumstances. When we experience positive situations, our brains send signals to our muscles that cause us to smile — but that’s not the whole story.
The feedback smiling sends to our brains reinforces our feelings of joy. So, not only does happiness make us smile, but also smiling actually makes us happy. Does this mean that if we can train ourselves to smile, even when we are not happy, we can become happy? Research suggests yes.
One Kraft and Pressman study, which was published in the Psychological Science Journal, involved administering stress-inducing activities to a number of participants with differing facial expressions.
Results found that smiling led to lower stress symptoms and that it didn’t matter whether the smile was forced or sincere. On a physiological level, scientists argue that facial expressions have direct effects on certain brain activities associated with happiness.
Is it possible that we may not even need to smile genuinely? Faking a smile could be enough! However, in the long term, how does faking it impact us?
Over the past few months, I began making it a point to approach difficult situations with a smile on my face. With each troubling scenario that presents itself — whether it is a difficult conversation with someone or facing fears in general — smiling has become a central coping mechanism that I have adopted.
At first, it feels counter-intuitive, but after a short while, it raises your emotional state from a place of worry and concern to a place of confidence and assurance. It transforms your body language from a position of weakness to one of power.
The smile radiates positive energy that others feel, which in turn is reciprocated. What begins as a forced and phony effort slowly becomes a positive reality.
Start smiling your way through life’s challenges, remembering that there is no need to fake it until you make it, but rather to fake it until you own it.
Photo via HBO