When the Only Makeup You Can Muster is a Smile

 photo credit: Matteo Martinello

We all have “days” when we fail to put our best foot forward – or our face for that matter. It was one of those days…I’d over looked the time and was running way behind. It was either stop and fix my face, or hurry out to save a little face. Either way, I was still going to be late. I jumped in my car, sans face paint, to meet with 30 people to teach a dance lesson.

I felt embarrassed and worried about what others might think. It wasn’t like me to be late and no amount of makeup would make me, “not late.” I decided the only way I could deal with my situation was to arrive with a “happy face.” It’s all I had to offer. I forced myself to practice in the car as I drove, grinning from ear to ear. People passing me probably thought I was whack!

I arrived thirty minutes past my start time and walked in with a grin on my face, even though I was mortified. I gathered everyone quickly and began the lesson. When the hour was over, people thanked me for my teaching, as usual. Although I might have made a poor impression on some, the majority forgave me. I doubt the outcome would have been as good if I’d entered with a Sad Sack serious face. In tense situations, I think people are relieved by a smile.

All of this got me thinking about what our faces say when we’re not looking.

The following day at the gym, I watched people around me – amazed at how many were out in public with full make up, but no smile. All of these people, I was pretty sure, were having a terrible day. But they were at the gym supposedly trying to feel good about themselves. Those who did smile at me appeared warmer, more open as individuals, someone I’d like to get to know. They seemed more attractive to me than those wearing makeup and no smile.

It’s funny, but when something goes wrong in our lives, one of the hardest things for us to do is smile. In fact, we sometimes even resist smiling, thinking it’s unnatural, a “treason” to our troubles. We want to be sure no one mistakes where we’re at. I know, I was a worrisome teen, walking around feeling so much angst and uncertainty that complete strangers had to remind me to smile. When they did, I felt embarrassed, knowing others saw me that way. I didn’t know that my inner life was coming out so clearly.

The truth is, the kind of make up we apply to our faces to make us “look” better doesn’t always make us “feel” better. However, the action of putting a smile on our face, and holding it there for a couple of minutes, actually gives our brain the impression that everything “is better.” It interrupts the flow of negative thinking and convinces us (and those around us) that all is well.

Smiling versus frowning is a choice, one our mother’s put before us often as kids. We can decide in any given circumstance, to put on a happy face, or not. Smiling right in the middle of the “not so good” moments takes willpower. We have to force it and that can feel “fake.” But the result only seems fake in that the feeling doesn’t come before the smile (the way we’re used to), but the other way around.Science confirms that endorphins and serotonin (which make us feel better) are released when we put a smile on our face and it doesn’t matter if it comes before or after the feeling we desire.

It’s not magic; it’s just how our body regulates our well-being. Face makeup changes us from the outside, but a smile can change us from the inside out. A smile can, and does, produce the feeling happiness if we hold it long enough to let its power shift us to a better place.

When we feel bad about something we can maintain our poor feelings with a long face or we can get back to good as soon as possible – the shift can happen in a matter of minutes if we want it to. Some people might think that it’s wrong to pretend that everything is okay in the midst of trouble. But when you smile despite your troubles, you’re really just forcing yourself to acknowledge the truth of any situation – the fact that trouble is fleeting, and that in a short while everything will be okay…. So why shouldn’t we get to that feeling sooner, if we can.



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