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What Does Your Smile Say About You?

By Joanne Barker

Reviewed by Alfred D. Wyatt Jr., DMD

WebMD Feature

Want to succeed in business, fill up your social calendar, and get more romance into your life? One secret may be in your smile.

Your smile -- simple, straightforward, and most important, sincere -- can attract more than admiring looks. A smiling face tells people that you’re an outgoing and intelligent person worth getting to know.

"When someone has a big smile, it shows they’re willing to open up and expose a part of themselves," says Pamela McClain, DDS, a past president of the American Academy of Periodontology. Over the long term, smiling can benefit your health, perception at work, social life, and romantic status.  With that much at stake, it's worthwhile to discover what your smile is saying about you -- and how to interpret the smiles flashed your way.

Smiling Eyes Aren't Just for the Irish

Many Americans look at the mouth to judge a person’s mood, but people smile for all sorts of reasons: anger, fear, embarrassment, confusion, to deceive. It’s really your eyes that give you away.

The muscles around the eyes can’t be forced to look happy. When people smile for real, their cheeks rise and the skin around their eyes bunches up. In fact, in certain countries where suppressing emotion is a cultural norm, people look more at each other’s eyes to gauge emotion.

A Smile Makes You Look Successful

"A smile conveys confidence and professionalism," says Lily T. Garcia, DDS, a past president of the American College of Prosthodontists. People who project a positive outlook are generally more open and flexible. They tend to cope better with challenges than people who are withdrawn and unsmiling.

A study that followed a group of women for 30 years shows the lifetime benefits of smiling. The women who displayed genuinely happy smiles in their college yearbook photos went on to have happier marriages and greater well-being.

In the same study, a group of strangers looked at the college photos and reported their assumptions about the women’s personalities. The women who smiled were judged to be more positive and competent than those who didn’t.

Turn That Frown Upside Down

Want to be happy? Just smile. Believe it or not, forcing yourself to smile can actually make you happier.

Paul Ekman, PhD, a psychologist who is an expert in facial expressions, taught himself to arrange the muscles in his face to make certain expressions. To his surprise, he found himself feeling the emotions that he was mimicking. When he raised his cheeks, parted his lips, and turned the corners of his mouth up, he felt happier.

Ekman and his research partner went on to do a study of college students to see if they, too, would feel happier by making themselves smile. The researchers measured the students’ brain activity while the students followed instructions to smile using the muscles in their cheeks and around their mouths.

Whether the students smiled spontaneously or on purpose, the activity in their brains was virtually the same. They felt happy.

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