What does a smile say?

Smiles are a gesture of friendliness in most cultures, but researchers have identified different types of smiles and their purpose.

We’ve all heard the saying, “You should smile more! It takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile.” I’m not sure hearing a statement like that actually makes people smile more, but the statement is scientifically sound. It really does take more muscles to frown, about 47 of them. And for smiling, we only use about 13. So it’s true, it really does take more muscles to frown than it does to smile. Aside from an exercise in muscle tension, what does a smile really say?

Culturally, smiles are a gesture of friendliness in most areas of the world. It’s a non-verbal skill meaning that communication is happening without the use of words. In the article, “The Subtle Smile,” published by Yale Scientific, Marianne LaFrance explains that the main purpose of smiling is to form, sustain and repair interpersonal relationships. We can attribute the successful creation of these relationships to the concept that smiling triggers happiness.

There are also different types of smiles. Think for a minute about when you might use different types of smiles. What about when you find out that you just received a raise – what does that smile look like? Or when you’re googling over a baby – that’s a different type of smile. University of California at Berkeley researchers have identified six different types of smiles in a recent article, “The face value of a smile:”

  • The Duchenne smile. A genuine grin, it's named for 19th-century French scientist Duchenne de Boulogne, whose name is associated with a form of muscular dystrophy.
  • The flirty, coy smile. Often, the person looks out of the corner of the eyes, head turned.
  • The amused smile. It comes with the chortle after a good joke, with the head thrown back.
  • The love smile. Often with a tilted head and softened eyes.
  • The interested smile. With raised eyebrows and a slight grin.
  • The embarrassed smile. Sometimes with the eyes cast downward.

Who wouldn’t want to use less muscles, build relationships and be happy? Michigan State University Extension recommends practicing these smiles in a mirror or trying to identify each type of smile as you’re out and about. See if the smile matches the mood and environment of the situation. If they don’t match, you’ll know that the smile might not be sincere.

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