Midweek Musings-39

Mid Week Musings


We all know the difference between a genuine smile and a fake smile. A fake smile, it is said, ‘doesn’t reach the eyes’. But did you know that there is an actual scientific term for authentic smiles? They are called ‘Duchenne smiles’, named after Guillame Duchenne, a 19th-century Neurologist who mapped the muscles of the human body, including the muscles that control facial expression.

(Inauthentic smiles, incidentally, are called ‘Pan-American smiles’, after the flight attendants in television ads for the now-extinct airline.) 

A Duchenne smile is the one that reaches your eyes, making the corners wrinkle up (like crows’ feet). For the more scientifically inclined, a Duchenne smile is produced by the joint action of two facial muscles. — The zygomaticus major muscle lifts the corners of your mouth while the orbicularis oculi raises your cheeks, causing the subsequent laugh lines at the outside corners of your eyes. (Stand in front of a mirror and see for yourself!)

Amazingly, several longitudinal studies (that is, studies conducted over a period of many years) have shown that those who are in the habit of smiling the Duchenne smile are actually happier, handle problems better and live longer than those who don’t. Here are just a few examples:

Dacher Keltner and LeeAnne Harker of the University of California at Berkeley, studied 141 senior-class photos from the 1960 yearbook at Mills College. All but three of the women were smiling in these photos, and about half of the smilers were ‘Duchenne smilers.’ All the women were contacted at ages 27, 43 and 52 and asked about their life satisfaction. Astonishingly, the women with the Duchenne smiles had experienced much more happiness and well-being than the others!

In 2012, a University of Kansas psychologist, Tara L. Kraft, gave study participants two sets of stressful tasks. One group was instructed to maintain smiles throughout the experiment’s stressful phases. They were even given chopsticks to hold in their teeth to simulate smile-like muscle responses. The researchers found that heart rates among the smiling group stayed the lowest during stress recovery, with the calmest hearts being participants who had Duchenne smiles.

A 2019 study by a team of researchers led by Dr. Liza Zardo measured the impact of Duchenne smiling among young people who felt ostracized socially, and found that the Duchenne smilers “spontaneously regulated their emotional experience” during difficult social encounters and survived them better than the non-smilers.
The late Zen master and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, was quite right when he said, “Your joy can be the source of your smile, but sometimes, your smile can be the source of your joy.”

So go ahead and smile … authentically!

Have a great week!

Team Anahat