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Natural Awakenings Sarasota / Manatee / Charlotte

Mindful Smiling

Nov 03, 2015 06:13PM ● By Richard Lamson

By now, we have all most likely heard that smiling is beneficial for our health and well-being, but do we really understand why, and are we utilizing this powerful gesture for all of its miraculous magical capabilities? Too often, our smiles have become mindless – a repetitive gesture dismissed by our cognitive mind.

            In her book, Why Smile: the Science behind Facial Expression, leading expert Marianne LaFrance writes, “Human smiles are designed to captivate. They are consequential –they affect what others feel and do. Far from being merely a nice gesture, a credible smile is a force to be reckoned with. Smiles are indispensable to physical health, psychological well-being and social viability.”  The first step in mindful smiling is embracing the idea that your smile is, “a force to be reckoned with;” the second step is utilizing that force.

            Let’s take a brief look at what happens when we flash those pearly whites. Once we engage the zygomatic major with the orbicularis oculi muscle, we have what is known as the Duchene Smile, named after the 19th century French anatomist.   That smile triggers a neurological dance party, and the life of that party are endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. The release of these neurons or (party favorites) is what makes smiling so beneficial. They help reduce stress, boost our immune system, lower blood pressure, and contribute to a positive mood and outlook, enhancing our overall health and well-being. These party favorites are the agents of longevity.

            With that understanding, let’s examine the brief smile we exchange with a stranger. We have all experienced it, but it is more than just a social norm. Thanks to what scientists call “mirror neurons,” we are conditioned to respond to a smile with a smile. In that fleeting moment when two strangers connect, one flashes a big smile, and the other returns one. Thereby, a magical gift is given to you. Both of you reap the rewards of that neurological dance party. 

            We are biologically wired to help one another. The survival of our species depends on it. Now, what if we became mindful of the fact that every smile really does uplift one another? Your smile does communicate; it can inform others that you acknowledge their value and dignity. When we practice mindful smiling, we consciously remind ourselves of others value. The cause and effect of valuing others should not be underestimated.

            Your own self-value and your value in the world will increase; this is simply Universal Law. When we are mindful of this energy force, we are far more inclined to use it as often as possible. Take comfort in the fact there are no recorded deaths linked to excessive smiling. Your smile can invoke cooperation, slow down your emotions, and project confidence. Be mindful of this force and use it.

            Ellen Langer, author of the bestselling book Mindfulness, identifies three key qualities of a mindful state – creation of new categories, openness to new information and awareness of more than one perception. When applied to smiling, we experience heightened awareness, we open ourselves to give and receive, and our perception of this simple gesture is transformed. Our smile should serve to remind us of our connectedness and inter-dependence. Mother Theresa understood the power behind a smile when she said, “Peace begins with a smile.” 

 

Richard Lamson is an artist, humorist, author and self-proclaimed “Smile Guru.” His book, Smile I AM: The Art of Smiling to a Life Fulfilled integrates the power of I AM and the science of smiling. He resides in Sarasota and can be found at art fairs along the Gulf Coast and throughout Florida. 

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