Smile! But Less Creepy, Please.

Her dark eyes hid the depth of her homicidal tendencies. Her face, taut and lacking color gave the illusion she might no longer be a part of the living. Her lips pull back wide and she struggles, yes, she struggles. Her tormented mind confused by the painful action as her lips carefully pull back exposing a row of perfect teeth. She did it. She smiled-though questionable, she did it.

March 9th, is National Good Deed Day, and I know you’re probably thinking, great another made up holiday by the greeting card industry! But before you rush out for a last minute card I would like you to think about the motive behind this day. According to Good Deeds Day at gdd.goodnet.org they describe it this way “Good Deeds Day is an annual celebration of good deeds. All over the world, hundreds of thousands choose to volunteer and help others, putting into practice the simple idea that every single person can do something good, be it large or small, to improve the lives of others and positively change the world.”

Often times I feel overwhelmed with all of the hurt, sadness, loneliness and tragedy plaguing our world. And recently my family has had to openly discuss suicide as two of my daughter’s classmates ended their lives last week in separate incidents. The internal struggle to find happiness and escape the deep, dark well of sadness is universal. It is not prejudice. As I hear the stories of our young people ending their lives my heart is heavy. What can I do to help make a difference? What can I offer?

There have been many studies on the benefit of smiling. It can lift our mood. It is contagious. And it can lengthen our life. Don’t believe me? Here’s some research:

How Smiling Affects Those Around You

Did you know that your smile is actually contagious? The part of your brain that is responsible for your facial expression of smiling when happy or mimicking another’s smile resides in the cingulate cortex, an unconscious automatic response area (1). In a Swedish study, subjects were shown pictures of several emotions: joy, anger, fear and surprise. When the picture of someone smiling was presented, the researchers asked the subjects to frown. Instead, they found that the facial expressions went directly to imitation of what subjects saw (2). It took conscious effort to turn that smile upside down. So if you’re smiling at someone, it’s likely they can’t help but smile back. If they don’t, they’re making a conscious effort not to.

Looking at the bigger picture, each time you smile at a person, their brain coaxes them to return the favor. You are creating a symbiotic relationship that allows both of you to release feel good chemicals in your brain, activate reward centers, make you both more attractive and increase the chances of you both living longer, healthier lives.

A small, simple offering that can, indeed, help make the world a better place and the best part is it didn’t cost you a thing. Tomorrow is National Good Deed Day and instead of brushing it off as a meaningless day I encourage you to take part. You may not have the time, money, or ability to do something big, but you can offer a smile to anyone. And sometimes a smile can reap the biggest rewards.

If you choose to participate in National Good Deeds Day what do you plan on doing?

 

7. O’Doherty, J., Winston, J., Critchley, H. Perrett, D., Burt, D.M., and Dolan R.J., (2003) Beauty in a smile: the role of medial orbitofrontal cortex in facial attractiveness. Neuropsychologia, 41, 147–155.

8. Sonnby–Borgström, M. (2002), Automatic mimicry reactions as related to differences in emotional empathy. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 43: 433–443.

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