Just Keep Smiling: My Sick Obsession With Widening My Mouth

Entering a dining hall is always the same. You look left: an affectionate couple stare lovingly across a table, in what has to be the most sensual consumption of chickpeas you’ve ever seen. You look right:  two 6‘4, ruggedly handsome rowers huddle around an iphone looking at what could be early shots of their modeling career. You look ahead: a small seat lies alone in a corner of the cafeteria. Your fate is chosen.

Or is it?

What if you could do something to instantly become more confident, more attractive, and significantly more comfortable in an awkward situation? What if that thing …  was between your lips?

Sadly, I am not referring to opium…

     The answer, as I learned this past summer, is simply to smile. Through decades of psychological research, researchers have shown smiling improves personal happiness, increases trustworthiness, and lowers stress levels. The fact that smiling is beneficial is not particularly surprising. However, what is interesting is that the smile does not need to be “genuine” (i.e. caused by laughing).  Rather, it can be a smile you consciously create.


With this in mind, I’ve tried to smile as often as possible over the past semester. My journey began small: I tried to smile whenever I walked outside, entered a dining hall, or saw someone I recognized. Soon, however, smiling took over my life. I smiled at stop signs, economics textbooks, and the occasional fleeing squirrel. Whenever I could, I forced myself to smile. And though this undoubtedly scared workers at CVS (His. Eyes. So. Bulgy.), smiling helped me feel more positive, more confident, and significantly more attractive (can you say 5.5 out of 10? (I can.)). Making smiling a practice wasn’t easy. But over the course of a smile-obsessed semester, I learned there were a couple of tricks to make a “smiling habit” significantly easier.

Should you smile more? Of course.

Here are seven tips how.

  1. Understand its benefits

Just like our emotions change our physical presence, our physical presence changes our emotions. Studies show that smiling releases endorphins, reduces stress, and strengthens our immune systems Even more, it makes us more attractive, more approachable, and more trustworthy. Smiles are also contagious, so when you smile more people around you also want to smile. Ultimately, to change any habit  you need to understand the benefits of a switch. Your first step is understanding why smiling is so important in your life.


  1. Set up primers for when you should smile

One way to make smiling into a habit is to set primers for when to smile. In his recent book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that habits follow a three step process: a cue, a routine, and a reward. In  this case, I suggest making the cue a physical place. Every time you step into a dining hall, enter a classroom, or leave your room smile. Now take 30 seconds to imagine yourself smiling as you enter each of those places. The key is to be as specific as possible in the location and to be as visual as possible when imagining it. The cue is the location. The process is grinning widely. The reward is the endorphins you naturally get when you smile.


  1. Make Sure Your Smile is Real

There is one big caveat to all of these benefits: you need to fake smile well. In a study with bus drivers in Michigan State, researchers showed that fake smiling to repress emotion can actually worsen your mood. However, if  the smile is formed via deep acting (i.e. thinking of positive thoughts) the opposite is true. Bottom line? Imagine a joyful situation before smiling. Psychologies magazine suggests visualizing something you love deeply or an event that brought you deep satisfaction.  Otherwise, thinking of a good joke can also produce the same effect. Looking for a good joke? Have you heard of the Harvard UC?


  1. Make a list of go-to smile makers

Just like Harry Potter developed a number of “happy thoughts” to produce his Patronus, you should have a number of memories to produce your smile. Taking 5 minutes to write down four fun, hilarious, or life-changing memories can make genuine smile making much easier. Writing them down helps you remember them in the future. Which will also be super handy if your life winds up being like “Memento” or “The Notebook.” Which are actually very sad movies. Dang. Where’s my list of memories?...


  1. Smile before big events.

Another great cue for smiling is situational events. If you’re performing on stage, going to a party, or attending a meeting use the entering the event as a reminder to smile. I separated events and locations because smiling is particularly useful at combatting stress.  As many events are stressful, the more you smile during the event, the better you will be. My advice: think of what specific events you want to target (meetings, parties, etc.). Now, visualize yourself smiling as you enter each of the events. Research shows that visualizing yourself completing an action significantly increases the chance you will do it. (My boys at the urinals will testify.)


  1. Smile when doing something creative.

One interesting affect of smiling is that it improves your creativity. Smiling can improve our attention and help us perform better on tasks that require a broad perspective. As PsyBlog reported “ Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested by Johnson et al. (2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks which required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees.” By holding a pencil between your teeth you force yourself to perform a duchenne - or real - smile. so, next time you’re working on a task that requires creativity grab a pencil and smile. It’s about to get easier.


  1. Smile when you see others.

Finally, the best primer for smiling is simply seeing others. As said above, Smiling is contagious. A recent study indicated that over 50% of people will smile when they see another person’s smile. If you want to make smiling a lifetime habit make every other person a primer. When you do this, smiling more will become inevitable.


Now, is there a limit to this smiling? Of course. I don’t recommend smiling at funerals, motor relays, or while being punched in the face. Nonetheless, I’ve loved having smiling as a personal goal. It’s easy, fun, and makes my world a much happier place. If you’re interested, please join me.

Smiles love company.