Are you a smiley person? Are your facial muscles more in the upward mode than downward?
I am by nature a pleasant person. I am not dour by any means. I like a good joke and generally find humor in most situations and in people's behavior. But, I am also by nature more of an introvert. As my grandmother used to say, "you are a deep thinker" which means that I have many ideas swirling around in my head and sometimes forget to react to the world around me.
This past week it occurred to me that the world is an oyster for those who smile. Not that one has to be insincere with one's expressions but that there is some truth to the adage "act as if you are happy". I noticed that the times when I do feel a lightness of being and so smile at those I encounter, whether it is at the grocery store, walking down the street or in a large social setting, I have many more pleasant interactions. Smiling is contagious and who wouldn't want to be around a pleasantly smiling person? Interacting with others and feeling part of the "community" can put and keep me in a good mood.
When I don't interact with others I find that it is a self fulfilling prophecy- others won't interact with me, which causes me to start to feel isolated and wanting to withdrawal even further into myself. It is not that I have to have an long interaction or a deep discourse with others but it is having some type of interaction- a shared smile, a quick hello or a recognition of some sort- that lets me think I am not alone and that I "belong" to my community.
In The Atlantic magazine, there was an article by Lindsay Abrams about an experiment to see if forcing a smile could genuinely reduce stress. For some in the study, the forced smile was achieved by using chop-sticks to keep the muscles in a smile formation. Others were explicitly told to keep smiling. The subjects were then asked to perform stress-induced tasks. Those who were forced to smile had lower heart rates than those who didn't smile and those who were smiling on their own had even a more positive effect. (The full study,"Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Positive Facial Expression on the Stress Response," is published in the journal Psychological Science)
Of course, there are many questions about this study: Sample size? Logistics for keeping chopsticks on your facial muscles? Other variables? But, I think that it is interesting that there were some positive results in the lowered heart rate due to the smiling- fake or otherwise.
Today or someday soon, why not try your own smiling experiment? I would suggest not using chopsticks to keep your smile alight but I would suggest that you try smiling wherever you go. Even if you are not around people, give yourself your own private smile. Assess how you feel? Assess how others respond to you? If you find it positive, try to incorporate smiling as your default face. Who knows? You might become as famous for your smile as the Mona Lisa.