The ‘Art’ and ‘Science’ of Smiling

Categories Emotions

An unknown author once said, “It’s scary what a smile can hide”. How true!!! A smile can hide many things, including hurt, pain, shyness, secrets, life’s lessons, emotions, hate, lingering tears, feelings, fears, drama, reality, failures, lies, sorrows, heartaches, loneliness, sadness, negative people encounters, regrets, stress,  betrayal, emptiness, disappointment, what we truly feel, the things that we wish we could say, and the things that we’re too afraid to admit.

The problem is that most smiles are fake. Scientists tell us that a fake smile, like when we “smile to the camera”, involves the voluntary contraction of only one muscle, the zygomatic major muscle which raises the corners of the mouth and the upper lip, hence exposing the teeth.  A fake smile, also called a “social smile” or a “mouth-only smile”, sometimes reveals negative feelings or motives such as arrogance, dominance, sarcasm, contempt, nervousness, embarrassment, or merely shows affiliation or politeness devoid of affect.

But it was not always like that. When we were children, all our smiles were genuine. Our life’s experiences have reduced our positive qualities such as smiling genuinely. Most of us have forgotten how to smile genuinely over time, and have adopted “social smiles” along the way.

We can however learn and purpose to convert our fake smiles into genuine, authentic smiles. A genuine smile is also called the “Duchenne smile”, named after the French physician Guillaume Duchenne. Science tells us that the Duchenne smile involves the involuntary contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle and the orbicularis oculi muscle, the latter of which raises the cheeks, produces crow’s feet around the eyes (wrinkles on the outer edge of the eyes), and almost closes the eyes (as shown in the smile of my late father in the photo above). In other words, a genuine smile involuntarily contracts both the zygomatic muscle which engages the mouth muscles; and the orbicularis muscle which engages the eye muscles.

The fact that we are able to smile genuinely when we are around children even when we are upset or sad is proof enough that we can re-learn to smile genuinely. The reason why this happens is that when we smile genuinely, like children do, we will make all those around us to smile too; because smiling is a great smile-inducing activity, it is contagious, and it is a very effective non verbal tool for spreading happiness.

Another quote by an unknown author says, “To smile genuinely is the best way to face every problem, to crush every fear, and to hide every pain”. It’s pretty crazy what a smile can do. Wearing a regular, genuine smile can be healing to the depressed, it can reduce stress by decreasing stress-induced hormones, it helps to generate positive emotions, it stimulates brain activity, and it, with time, produces longer lives, happier lives, and fewer setbacks

A hearty, authentic smile will bring back our self-confidence, ego, fun, beauty, outgoingness, health, happiness, inspiration, love, self-love, motivation, self respect, peace of mind, and reverse broken friendships. The end result will most probably be success, a great destiny, ability to let go, move on and trust more even amidst adversaries

A genuine smile makes us become friendlier, happier, more attractive and approachable.

It’s easy to make quick judgments about people who are downtrodden and are carrying scars that go deep down to the core of their souls; but it’s amazing what positive effect a genuine smile on our faces can do to us and also to those around us.

We can all practice and strive to get the genuine Duchenne smile back. Smiling can be re-learnt. To know how, please click here to read ‘A 3 step guide to a better smile’.


  1. Harker, L. and Keltner, D. (2001). Expressions of positive emotion in women’s college yearbook pictures and their relationship to personality and life outcomes across adulthood. Journal of personality and Social Psychology, 80(1):112-124.
  2. What science has to say about genuine vs fake smiles
  3. The Science of Smiling: A guide to The World’s Most Powerful Gesture


I am an epic introvert, who quickly becomes an open book when I pen what’s in my significantly fertile mind; fertile as a result of bombardment by realities that are continuously captured by my inquisitive eyes, ears which are constantly rubbing the ground, through constant reading, and through dreaming too.

Writing provides an opportunity to ‘say’ what my unapologetic quiet mouth will not say; which not only soothes me, but also bequeaths to me a relief, a release, and a hope that the written words will change the world, even if only one person at a time.

And so should you seek, that’s where to find me; deeply tucked inside the blankets of reading, seeing, listening, dreaming, and then writing.

2 thoughts on “The ‘Art’ and ‘Science’ of Smiling

  1. The article is good because it speaks to the lay and the experts but l am just thinking dad’s photo is not relevant because you have not made reference to it. Perhaps you can see how to bring it into the write up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.