I’m experimenting with my smile. In that I’m trying to keep one on my face for most of the day. Not the toothy, forced type that might scare a small child, but a gentle, pleasant, peaceful version.
In the moments when I would tune in to my facial expression, more often than not I’d find my teeth gritted and brows knitted. Concentrating on the combined nuisance of traffic and backseat drivers (as in the kids in the backseat drive me nuts) brings on this pinched feel to my face. It no doubt looks painful on the outside too when I’m lost in the twirling chaos of to do lists and thoughts in my head.
Bringing my attention to what’s going on around my face showed me how often it’s creased or rigid in tension. I don’t have to be having a bad day or moment for it to be happening – just being caught up in everyday life and busyness is enough.
So I started making a conscious effort to tune into my facial expression and to relax any feeling of tightness I found there, particularly around the eyes and jaw. The difference is instant and remarkable.
Now I’ve taken it one step further and am trying to keep a ‘smiley face’. To concentrate on keeping my face in a state of calm happiness if you like, and projecting a gentle smile while I go about my business. (I’m smiling at you right now :)).
For more than a century plenty of researchers have delved into the cause and effect of smiling.
Neurologist Guillaume Duchenne had ‘real’ smiles named after him when, back in the 1860s, he identified the facial muscles involved in spontaneous smiling. These are those smiles you cannot help but have, the ones that reach your eyes and that authors would say ‘light up the room’.
The non-Duchenne smile is the other type (dubbed by Dr Martin Seligman the ‘Pan-American Smile’ after the air hostesses of the now defunct airline) the one we force upon ourselves and others or use as a courtesy.
Research in the past few decades has focused on the positives of faking it and found that a forced smile can in fact lift your mood.
So it’s a two-way street between the curve of your lips and your mood.
My smiley face is not quite of the Pan-Am ilk. It’s a no-teeth version. Just a thought process of ‘smile’. To smile with my eyes, or to smile with my thoughts, to smile without wrinkle or crease or effort. To think smile and feel my face soften.
It’s calming, and uplifting. I find I relax completely when I do it. I find it draws my attention to my breath and brings on a deeper inhalation. It reminds me to just ‘be’ and brings up feelings of general wellbeing and gratitude.
And I pass it on to whoever happens to be looking my way at the time. There’s more chit chat with shop and stall owners, the petrol station attendant – apparently I appear more approachable. It’s nice.
[quote style=”boxed”]“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh [/quote]