Say Cheese, The Power of a Smile
Did you know that when you smile, even if you are not feeling especially happy, your brain still responds by feeling better? Several studies have been done to indicate that this is true. It seems you can trick yourself into feeling happier simply by “pretending” to smile. Go ahead and try it right now. I’ll wait…
Further, it appears from recent studies that people who smile more live longer. Also, smiles encourage altruism – if someone smiles at you, even a perfect stranger, you are more likely to do something to help another person out. Smiles just seem to generate lots of positive emotion that bring us closer together as people. It’s no wonder photographers will do whatever it takes to get us to smile for photos. Cheese is evidently just an easy word to say that pulls our cheek muscles back and shows our pearly whites, thus leading us in the direction of a smile. When you smile, your face looks more relaxed, available and warm. Who doesn’t want to be recorded in this way?
Whose smile makes a difference to you?
I can remember a specific time recently when I was driving home from a weekend in Chicago and I was feeling really down. It was a challenging time and I was really doing a great job of telling myself some pretty horrific stuff about myself, the way the world was changing, and the uncertain future. I decided to stop and get myself a cup of coffee, and I was on one of those ramps that has two lanes for turning left. I looked over to the car beside me, and the driver looked back at me and smiled. I didn’t know her, had never seen her before or since, so I will never be able to thank her. But the impact of her warm and kind smile was huge. I felt a sense of hope, just from that quick connection. Suddenly all was not lost and I was able to regain a sense of realness. The world may be challenged, but in that moment, I was safe. Everything was OK.
Since our brains are equipped with mirror neurons, we actually invite people to reciprocate with smiles when we smile. Often referred to as “monkey see, monkey do” neurons, this is the brain’s way of teaching us how to develop empathy. We can feel what others are experiencing because of this wiring in our own brains. That’s what makes it possible for us to “experience” sporting events without really feeling the power of a 300-pound linebacker plowing us over on the football field. Or, to experience the sheer exuberance and joy while seeing an athlete standing on the awards platform ready to receive an Olympic gold medal. And yes, the mirror neurons are also active when we feel tears spring to our eyes when we see others crying.
The shadow of your smile, when you are gone
Will color all my dreams and light the dawn.
Look into my eyes, my love, and see
All the lovely things you are to me.
Smiles are powerful! Never forget the lasting impact of yours, as described in the popular ballad by Tony Bennett, The Shadow of Your Smile. Say “ cheese” and pass it on! Do it now – I’ll wait.