January 15, 2011

Smiles That Make You Happy




What do smiles really mean? The French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne mapped 100 facial muscles in 1862. In the course of that work, he had something to say about smiling. He pointed out that false, or even half-hearted, smiles involved only muscles of the mouth. But "the sweet emotions of the soul," he said, activate the pars lateralis muscle around the eyes.

Since then, physiologists have talked about the Duchenne marker in a smile. It's a slight crinkling of crows-feet and a droop in the eyelid toward the temples -- along with a lift of the cheeks and the corners of the mouth. You know the sign. You recognize true delight in a friend's face.
Now psychologist

Paul Ekman

has gone back to the smile and found out something very important about it. The Duchenne smile, it seems, is accompanied by increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex -- known to be the seat of positive emotions.
The most fascinating thing Ekman found is: You can work it in reverse. If you put on a Duchenne smile, you can activate your pleasure centers. You can literally make yourself happy by smiling. But not completely so. A spontaneous smile activates even more reactions than you can access with a voluntary smile.
So it's no surprise that we're put off by a false smile. Once we know the real thing, the fake becomes offensive. I've always had particular trouble with the classic fixed smile of a ballerina -- for just that reason. There's no Duchenne marker, and it chills me.
Ekman has shown us something we've suspected for a long time. It is that we create our own realities. You cannot fake happiness, but you can create it within yourself. And when you do, you deeply touch those around you. Another Frenchman, the 17th-century moralist La Rochefoucauld, had the idea. He wrote,
To win that wonder of the world,
A smile from her bright eyes,
I fought my King, and would have hurled
The gods out of their skies.

[Original article can be found at: http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi883.htm]

1 comment:

  1. there are plenty of ballerina's out there with real smiles on their faces, because they must love being up there enough to work hard enough to get to a place where you can see them. dancing makes them happy, or they wouldn't be doing it.

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