Friday, October 05, 2007

Mona Lisa

What made Mona Lisa smile? Was she pregnant? Had she received some good news? Did Michelangelo tell her a joke? I guess we will never know. This will always be one of the enigmas of the art world.

Smiling can become a habit, and scientists say that it is one of the best habits we could develop. It can reduce the level of stress hormones and raise the level of important neurotransmitters, like Serotonin, which is desperately needed by those of us with chronic depression.

One of the theories of psychology is a hypothesis called "facial feedback." This theory states that there are "involuntary facial movements which provide sufficient peripheral information to drive emotional experience." In other words, just smiling may improve your mood. Psychologist Dr. David Lewis says, "Seeing a smile creates what is termed a 'halo' effect helping us to remember happy events more vividly, feel more optimistic, more positive and more motivated." The caveat to this is that a "fake" smile doesn't do anything good for anyone. Just think about how happy you are(n't) when you look at your driver's license.

There are also social benefits to smiling. When you give a smile, you nearly always get one back. This reciprocal effect is one of the reasons that I enjoy smiling. In fact, it has always puzzled me a little when I look at someone and they give me a warm and interesting smile. I asked a friend about this once, and he said that I always (mostly) walk around with a little grin on my face. When I meet another person, they respond to what they see. Try it. If people don't smile back, at least they will wonder what you've been up to.

You might be surprised at other findings by professional researchers. Hewlett Packard conducted a survey which concluded that seeing a smile is more pleasurable than having sex or eating chocolates, and a smile can even generate more stimuli than other things, including receiving money. Two thousand bars of chocolate or receiving $16,000 can only give you the same amount of pleasure a smile can emanate, avers the test. Just think of the pounds that can be saved by some one's smile.

NOW, there is a negative side. In support group meetings, I've learned that many people who are chronically depressed are still functioning smilers. The drawback to that is that your acquaintances may not take your depression seriously (or believe in it at all) if you have a grin on your face.

I don't know why I smile as much as I do. For some reason, it just comes naturally. No matter how depressed I am, if someone speaks to me, I respond with a smile. I've had people remark about my "face lift" all of my life. A cousin who I hadn't seen in thirty years once said, "If I had met you on the street, I wouldn't know who you were, but I would recognize that smile anywhere." For good or for evil, that's just the way I am. Sometimes, I just wish that I didn't give the false impression of being "happy go lucky."

Though I am more optimistic when I'm depressed than some people are when they aren't depressed, I just want my depression to be taken more seriously. There are some days when I wish that others could see the pain behind the smile. Who would have thought that a smile could be a handicap? I sometimes feel a kinship with Sir Walter Scott's bride in his poem Lochinvar. She had a " on her lips and a tear in her eye."

Still, I think Mark Stibich, Ph.D. has given us 10 good Reasons To Smile.

01-Smiling makes us attractive. We are drawn to people who smile. Frowns push them away.
02-Smiling changes our mood. Smiling can trick the body into helping you change your mood.
03-Smiling is contagious. It can light up the room and make others happier.
04-Smiling relieves stress.
05-Smiling boosts your immune system. Prevent the flu and colds by smiling.
06-Smiling lowers your blood pressure.
07-Smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers and Serotonin. Smiling is a natural drug.
08-Smiling lifts the face and makes you look younger.
09-Smiling makes you seem successful.
10-Smiling helps you stay positive. When we smile, we tell our self that life is good.

Even though I don't always feel like it, I'm giving my vote for the sweetest expression in the world. If you are one of those people who have been frowning for so long that your face has frozen, take advantage of Newton's Law of Gravity and stand on your head. What goes down might go up.

["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]


Boo Boo said...


Why are you depressed? Do you know what the basis of this depression is? In reading your blog, there's no question you are interested in the details of depression and its psychology. I can also detect notes of resignation or the tired feeling depression can give you.

Have you looked into what the primary driver for your depression is? Sometimes it's hard to find but find it you can.


Stormy Joe Ward said...

Boo, you ask a valid question. It is one that needs to be asked by every person who suffers from depression. As for me personally, you would best need to read my blog from the beginning. In general, though, depression can come from one of 4 sources, and sometimes from more than one at a time. Depression can be (1)situational, (2) biological, (3) psychological, and/or (4) spiritual. For a more full explanation, I would suggest you read my blog from the beginning, or one of the many books, magazines, and articles related to the nature of the illness. Thanks for your question.

Jack Sebastian said...

Smiling is one of the simplest things that we can do, but still we find faults in it. Unfortunately, some people have a smile that's so crooked that it never elicits a smile response. Maybe that's why they invented several surgical lifts to solve that problem. They're quite popular here in Bay Area, you know. I bet Mona Lisa would have had cosmetic surgery if it were already available during her time.

Bettie Comerford said...

If you keep yourself happy all day, you may be able to have a better outlook in life and you will look and feel younger as well. There are lots of people who would go to different cosmetic procedures like liposuction for them to look great. Like here in my hometown of Scottsdale, people seems to get happier when they see themselves look perfect. Also here in Scottsdale, liposuction is one of the procedures that the people go to when they are not happy with how they would look like.