“Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.”
-Coco Chanel, world-famous fashion designer
I am very much aware of the toll that this pandemic, with all its ramifications, have taken on our individual and communal emotions and psyche. Recently, I spoke with a patient who told me that having to stay home is causing him to be both depressed and unable to make new memories. By this, he meant that every day is now the same for him. The days just blend into one another. So, we need ways for us to meet the needs of the most susceptible members of our community. But we can’t do that unless we begin ministering to ourselves. Clearly there is much that is beyond our control. There is also much that is within our control. And I want to discuss one of those things this morning.
I have often played a game with my friends and maybe you have also. It is the superpower game. Essentially, we ask one another, If you had to choose a superpower, what would it be? Often, the choice of the superpower revealed something of the person’s personality, and we would have a good time discussing it.
In discussing Wellness, I want to talk about a superpower that we all have. And it is one of the greatest of superpowers that could melt away tension, fear and anxiety. It is such a common superpower that we often take it for granted. And we don’t have to be hit by gamma rays, bitten by a radioactive spider or be a super soldier experiment to get this power. It is an invaluable yet very common power we all have.
It is the power of the smile. The simple smile. More specifically YOUR smile. Your smile makes you a superhero because it has such a positive impact on the one it is directed towards.
Moreover, your smile, even behind your mask, will give you the face you merit as you age. And it doesn’t cost you anything. It doesn’t cost you one blessed thing. It is free, yet invaluable. And I know we don’t wear these masks 24/7. We can smile 6 feet away from one another. And even behind these masks, people can know that you’re smiling.
Some of you may be thinking, “Dr. Arty, you are being a little cheesy. Maybe you skipped your meds this morning. What does this have to do with Wellness?” Please hear me out.
Smiles are the first building blocks of warm, loving and responsive relationships.
Consider babies and children. A smile enhances a child’s survival in having parents/caregivers interact more positively and affectionately with them. A baby’s smile has the power to melt the hardest of hearts. They have even caused families separated by contentions to come together. And that is a power much more powerful, influential, or impactful than the negotiations of the most knowledgeable family counselor.
Consider if a child or the caregiver does not smile. It discourages adults from playing with and smiling back at the child. It even discourages others from wanting to hold the child and thus compromising the child’s emotional development.
When the caregiver and the child smile at each other, it releases chemicals in the bodies of both individuals that make them feel happy and safe. On the other hand, if a baby is feeling insecure or stressed, there’s an increase in the stress hormones in their body. And the caregiver will also feel stressed in caring for a child who is cranky and does not smile.
Advantages of Smiling:
- Smiling activates the release of molecules that work towards fighting stress. These molecules help us experience a range of emotions—from happiness to sadness, excitement to anger—but when we smile, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are released in the bloodstream. That results in good feelings or a mild euphoria resulting in less stress.
- In reducing stress, smiling makes you feel more positive. More to the point, researchers found that people who smile are often perceived as being younger than their actual age, while people who frown appear to be older than they really are. So, turn that frown upside down and put on a happy face and deserve that face that you’ll get when you are 40, 50, 60, or at my father’s age of 90.
- Facial expressions have a big impact on mood. When we are naturally feeling good, we will smile without realizing it. However, you don’t have to be in a good mood to smile. Science has shown that smiling (even if you’re in a bad mood) has the power to boost your mood because it sends signals to your brain that tell it you are happy.
- As humans, we interpret cues and communication signals from one another constantly. A smile, even one behind a mask, is one of these cues that is perceived by others as the person being easygoing, personable, approachable, engageable, safe, and attractive.
My mother had a stroke that caused her to smile in a crooked manner; half her mouth or face smiled. But when she smiled, it was attractive and melted hearts and caused everyone around her to feel good.
It doesn’t take an outfit or a new hairdo to look good, but just a simple homegrown smile can make you look beautiful.
I have some further challenges that will help increase your emotional and psychological resilience.
- Go to sleep 1 hour earlier than usual.
- Have a day without complaining about anything or negative talk
- Spend a day thinking about 10 things you are grateful for.
- Work on your posture.
Pierre R. Arty, M.D.