20 Sep 2022

When you're smiling...

A warm smile will ensure that you make vital connections when you first enter a room. If you smile at others, there is a good chance that they will smile back. You will already be aware that you smile when you are happy and when you feel positive about the people around you. It has also been proven that smiling not only elevates your own mood – it is a form of natural anti-depressant – but will also alter the moods of other people for the better.

A smile can be a spontaneous reaction to joy and delight, but it can also be an intentional choice, intended to express warmth and cordiality. Even if you have to consciously remind yourself to smile, as long as you channel good emotions it will look genuine, and will be contagious.

Why is a smile so important? It is the first expression we experiment with as a baby, and a smile is recognised around the globe (albeit there are some nuances in different cultures). As the well-worn cliché goes, when you smile, the world really does smile with you.

Smiling will convey a number of messages: it proclaims your self-confidence, receptivity and self-belief, and it communicates that you are genuinely delighted to be interacting. It is therefore an excellent expression to have on your face when you are first introduced to a stranger, as it will inevitably leave a positive impression.

Real or Fake?

There are, of course, two sorts of smile, real and fake. But what is the difference?

It is all in the eyes. A real or full smile associated with positive emotions is more likely to create eye creases and a fake smile will not. While identifying a fake smile is not inevitably straightforward or accurate, it seems reasonable to assume that, if you can reframe the conditions just a little, less faking is required. For example, if you feel under pressure at an interview, you can smile when you meet the interviewer because you are genuinely grateful for the fact that you have made it to the interview, rather than because you are consciously thinking ‘Now is when I must smile’.

If you have to fake a smile, don’t overdo it – a fixed, rictus grin can soon start to look lunatic. A plausible faked smile will still attract positive feedback.

When Should You Smile?

Smiling at strangers, for example in the street or on public transport, will not inevitably be well-received: Brits, particularly urban-dwelling ones, can tend to be suspicious of friendly overture, however sincere they may be. You may be innocently full of the joys of life, but others may interpret a broad smile as creepy, mocking, or worse, a come-on.

On the other hand, smiling in a social or business setting is an essential way of communicating friendliness and establishing trust, even across language barriers.

Listen to that Smile

There are many ways in which you can confer joy and happiness when you meet people, and a smile is the most obvious. But what if you can’t see people? Does that mean you just have to fall back on friendly words? In fact, you must keep smiling because the people you speak to can hear a smile. A smile changes the shape of the lips and the soft tissue of the palate, and we hear it as clearly as we can see micro (or macro) expressions in the face. In fact, if in a phone call you use emollient words but don’t smile, you will start ringing alarm bells in people’s brains. They will hear in your voice that you don’t mean it.

A Disarming Smile

Anyone who has to argue a point, debate, or disagree with other people (politicians for example) will recognise that even a fierce argument will be defused by smiles. You simply need to convince yourself that you are confident in your own views and do not feel angry with your opponent for disagreeing with you, and you will be able to use a potentially lethal weapon, the disarming smile – often the best way of dismantling arguments and disrupting the opposition.

However, if you are lying, or arguing a viewpoint that you do not find truly credible, it is quite likely that your smile will turn into a smirk. This disagreeable smile is generally seen as smug or condescending, the kind of expression that indicates that you feel in an advantageous position, perhaps because you know something that your interlocutor does not.

The Wrong Kind of Smile

It would seem obvious that the positive and agreeable associations we all make with smiling would indicate that it is not the right facial expression to use when confronted with bad news, tragedy, sadness or grief. However, it is also important to acknowledge that not all smiles indicate positive feelings. Scientists have identified a comprehensive range of smiles that can also accompany a number of less than positive emotions: pain, embarrassment, discomfort, incredulity, defeat. Interpreting facial expressions is never a simple matter, but in general a positive smile will capture your attention and suffuse you with reciprocal feelings of positivity – this is an unlikely reaction when the smile is masking negative or ambiguous emotions.

We also must accept that telling other people to smile (remarks of the “Smile! It may never happen…” variety) is extremely intrusive. There are a myriad reasons why somebody might not be smiling, and it really isn’t any of your business to comment upon other people’s facial expressions.


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