In recognition of National Smile Week, I wanted to take the time to honor a universal yet agitating term: “You should smile more.” A phrase that often rings through the streets, at women scorned from the daily struggles of life, angry teenagers getting their first taste of it, and people in general who have chosen that to frown is a safer bet than to simply smile.
Growing up in the streets of DC, you learn at an early age that it isn’t safe to smile because someone may think you’re “sweet” and try you. Not smiling seems to even keep some sort of invisible barrier between you and that guy that looks you up and down at the bus stop every morning, or between you and that co-worker that just won’t shut up about her cats.
Despite all of this, I’m here to say that smiling might even be a safer bet than frowning your days away.
According to an article called, The Health Benefits of Smiling, published by the SCL Health Organization, “when you smile, your brain releases tiny molecules called neurotransmitters to help fight off stress.” Further, “other neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins come into play” and “the endorphins act as a mild pain reliever.” The article also discusses that even faking a smile can bring a boost to your overall mood.
So, scientifically, even faking a smile can have health benefits, but that doesn’t include the way smiling benefits others around you and your social life in general.
According to a Swedish study, “we can’t help but react with a smile of our own when we see someone smiling — so it’s an all-out infectious loop of happiness” (SCL Health Organization).
So yes, that co-worker that won’t stop talking about her cats can be a bother, but that’s when boundaries come into play. To combat this, you could try smiling and maybe politely changing the subject; you never know, you two may relate more than you think.
If you think about it, not smiling can be more hurtful to you than helpful. Aside from the scientific facts, socially, aren’t you more fearful of or avoiding those people that don’t have a warm, welcoming smile? Just think about all the opportunities to make friends or even networking opportunities that are missed simply because of the lack of a smile.
For a bit of context, here’s a quick story to put things into perspective: One of my close friends seemed to always be good at making friends. One would never think that creeping under the surface was…that’s right, anxiety. Another potential barrier keeping you distanced from others. Years later, as we discussed how we shared that very trait, she shared a secret with me. During those times when she was anxious – many of which I could not tell that she was – she would just push through it and, at the very least, smile. She also shared that she kept reminding herself that it was common for people to be nervous, and others are just as eager to meet and mingle with new people.
Anxiety, Covid-19, racism, differing demographics, along with a list of others, are all reasons why people have been separated from one another. Let’s remove not smiling from the list, and move a bit closer to one another. You’ll never know what an initial smile could lead to: a first date, a new friend, or maybe even a new job opportunity. The world and the people in it can seem scary at times but good-hearted people do still exist. How will you know if you don’t take that first step and smile?