5-18 Powell's City of Books, World's Largest Indie Bookstore by Judith Ashley and Sarah Raplee

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Thing that Makes Everyone Smile

By Robin Weaver

What ”always” makes people smile? Muscles.

If you’ve read any of my blogs, I’m sure you aren’t the least surprised I didn’t say babies, kittens, pizza, or puppies—although those things do make my chipmunk cheeks do the happy squirrel dance.

I’m also sure you’ve heard the saying: It takes 43 muscles to frown and only17 to smile. That’s not exactly correct though.  Some researchers say 19 muscles are required for the Cheshire Cat imitation while others  insist it may take 26 muscles for that demur little smile.  Seems like the Brainaic Brigade should be able to figure it out, right?  I mean we understand anatomy, so why can’t the experts agree?

Problem is, people smile for a whole lot of reasons and each person does it differently. There are at least 19 different kinds of smile. Regardless of the specific grin-bearing-muscle count, all researches agree a genuine grin requires more exertion than the fake smile. All smiles require five sets of muscles to raise the upper lip and corners of the mouth, but the phony-baloney grin doesn’t activate the muscles that crinkle the outer eyes like the genuine smile. Thus, most of us can recognize a faker in a Miss America minute.

 What I find more fascinating than the HOW, is WHY our muscles behave the way they do when something tickles our fancy.  Most researches point to the monkeys—don’t they always? On a side note, don’t monkeys always make you smile? 😊
I digress.  Back to the monkey grin… Primates bear teeth when frightened or trapped. Or as an aggressive action to frighten and trap. Theorists say the human smile evolved for the same reason—to show submissiveness and communicate we’re not a treat. Those same know-it-alls, uh…I mean exports, say smiling also shows our social ranking. A.k.a. people on the low end of the power totem-pole smile more than the big bad boss.
Only I can’t buy that—not completely anyway. Infants who are blind from birth never see a smile, yet these children display the same variety of smiles as people with full vision.  Some suggest we even smile in the womb.  Wow, that’s something considering how icky it must be in there.  Anyway, studies also show that ten-month-old babies have a special “real” smile for mommy and give strangers a fake grin.
Science aside, keep smiling.  Bearing those teeth makes you feel better, decreases stress and can even make you live longer. According to one researcher, “smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in a way that even chocolate…cannot match.” (I know, I said “science aside” but doesn’t chocolate excuse my faux pax? More important, smiling makes people respond to you in positive ways. It comforts people and makes them feel good.

So for you writers out there, maybe we shouldn’t be perfecting our pitches for editors and agents. Maybe we should be perfecting our smiles. Add a smile to any human situation, and you make things better.

Till then, keep grinning.


Sarah Raplee said...

Fascinating (and fun) post, Robin! The research you mentioned explains facial expressions like the "evil grin", "haughty smile", "devilish grin", "shy smile", etc.

Another use for the smile is to acknowledge people in a positive way, even people we don't know. Smiling leaves both the smiler and the smilee feeling uplifted.

Diana McCollum said...

Very informative and entertaining blog post! Thanks for posting it!!!

Polly Iyer said...

I smile a lot. I found it stretches out my mouth wrinkles, and you can't see them as much. So, people think you're pleasant and younger looking. What could be better than that. Fun blog post, Robin, and thanks for posting Linda's nomination. I shall write her immediately.

Mary London Szpara said...

This one added a "smile" to my day. Thanks Robin!

Maggie Lynch said...

Great post! I love smiles and practice it as much as possible. My mother is a almost constant smiler. Even in repose she has that Mona Lisa smile.

Sandy Bruney said...

On The Good Doctor, Sean researches smiles by smiling to elicit a smile in return. He was quick to realize the eye muscles are not used in a "fake" smile. (l love that show.) Enjoyable read as always, Robin.