There’s a piece of artwork in the cozy New York City restaurant The Smile that reads: “If you’re happy and you know it, keep it to yourself.”But should you? According to science, the answer is no. Smiling makes you more beautiful.When we’re young, we smile at practically everything (from your dad making silly faces to slap-stick cartoons to a new toy). Then somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, some of us start to grin less often. But here’s a reason to beam: Research shows that finding that genuine smile again may be a better beauty makeover than revamping your wardrobe revamp or splurging on an expensive haircut.
In studies, subjects judge smiling faces as more attractive—the “reward regions” of the brain even light up in response to a grin. People also think you’re more sincere and competent with a smile on. That may be thanks to the “Halo Effect,” where having one good quality makes people assume you have a host of other beautiful qualities.
And that may be true. “People who smile are often friendlier, have a better sense of humor and are more socially engaging,” says YouBeauty Psychology Advisor Art Markman, Ph.D. What’s more, research also shows that women with a “duchenne smile” (a genuine smile where the eyes crinkle up) in their high school yearbook picture had better marriages and overall wellbeing 30 years later.So if we smiled more often would we appear more attractive? And would people think our personalities were as glowing as our grins?
Experiment: Smiling More Vs. Less
We did some very unscientific research to see how smiling plays out in everyday life. The question: If I were to smile more than usual, would people smile back and approach me? Would I get treated differently when I wasn’t grinning?Here’s what I found: On the day that I smiled less than usual, nothing out of the ordinary happened. It was a gloomy Monday and I wasn’t feeling too well so it was easier to not grin. Although it was hard to suppress a smile when a coworker said something funny, I basically stayed in my corner of the office and didn’t socialize much (so I suppose not grinning did have an effect after all).
Next, I prepared for a day of near-constant smiling. Before going ahead with it, I asked Dr. Markman if it’s creepy to smile all of the time. His answer? Kind of—yes. That’s because a frozen facial expression isn’t really communicative.
“All interactions are a dance,” he says. “If you’re dancing with someone who’s waltzing and you’re doing the Cha-Cha, you’re going to step on them and it’s not going to be a pleasant experience. The whole point of a good dance is people responding to each other. Conversation is the same way.”Also, smiling all day is forced—and a fake grin doesn’t garner the same beauty benefits. A 2011 study of bus drivers found that fake smiling (aka “surface acting”) actually depressed mood compared to “deep acting,” which is smiling by way of conjuring positive thoughts and memories. When they did the latter, not only did their moods improve, but their productivity also increased. With that in mind, I thought, how am I going to make my extra-smiley day genuine?