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“Put on a Happy Face: The Power of a Smile”

September 3, 2007

On a recent Saturday, I officiated at two weddings, one in the morning, another in the afternoon. Following both ceremonies, professional photographers made pictures. Before each flash of the camera, the photographer encouraged the bridal party to smile. The images we treasure are the ones in which our loved ones are wearing a happy expression.

Perhaps the most famous smile of all time is the one captured by Leonardo DaVinci in his portrait of the Mona Lisa. The woman in the picture is Madonna Lisa del Giocondo. She was a young woman from Florence, about 26 years old, when DaVinci painted her.

Legend has it that her smile came from the delight she felt at the music which played in the background while DaVinci painted. The small portrait was painted between 1503 and 1506. DaVinci loved it so much; he always carried it with him.

When DaVinci died, the masterpiece was given to the king of France.  Napoleon kept the painting in his bedroom until it was placed in the Louvre in Paris in 1804.

Mona Lisa is an enigma, a visual icon, celebrated in song by Nat King Cole. The slight, elegant smile has captured the hearts of millions. She is the most famous romanticized painting in the history of art. It’s all in the smile!

Another famous smile is the bright yellow smiley face. In 1963, Harvey Ball owned a design company. The merger of two insurance companies had resulted in low employee morale. Harvey was employed as a freelance artist to create a logo for the company’s friendship campaign to boost workers spirits.

In less than ten minutes, the smiley face was completed. It was printed on cards and posters, and 100 smiley face pins were given out. The aim was to get employees to smile while using the phone and relating to customers and each other.

The buttons were highly popular. More than 50 million smiley face buttons were sold by 1971. The smiley face has been described as an international icon.

Harvey Ball founded the World Smile Corporation in 1999. The corporation licenses smiley faces. It organized World Smile Day to raise money for the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation, a nonprofit charitable trust supporting children’s causes. World Smile Day is held on the first Friday of October each year. The motto for the day is “Do an act of kindness – help one person smile.”

Smiling has numerous benefits. Mark Stibich, PhD, is a behavior change expert. He offers a list of the top ten reasons to smile.

1. Smiling makes us attractive. “A smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks,” said Charles Gordy.  We are drawn to people who smile.

2. Smiling changes our mood. The world always looks brighter from behind a smile.  Try putting on a smile. There’s a good chance your mood will change for the better.

3. Smiling is contagious. A smile is the universal welcome; it has no language barriers. Mother Teresa wrote,” Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”

 4. Smiling relieves stress. Phyllis Diller said, “A smile is a little curve that sets everything straight.”

5. Smiling boosts our immune system. When we smile, immune function improves, possibly because we are more relaxed.

6. Smiling lowers our blood pressure. Smiling is a natural tranquillizer. When we smile, we improve the most important muscle of the body, the heart. 

7. Smiling releases endorphins and serotonin, making us feel better. One estimate is that smiling is like eating 2000 dark chocolate bars!

8. Smiling lifts the face and makes us look younger. It takes seventeen muscles to smile and forty-three to frown.  The muscles we use to smile provide a natural facelift. Mark Twain said, “Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.”

9. Smiling is associated with success. Smiling people appear more confident, are more likely to be promoted, and more likely to be approached. Put on a smile at meetings and appointments. People will react to you differently.

10. Smiling helps us stay positive. A genuine smile is a simple remedy that helps overcome depression, stress, and worry.

            Scott Fahlman was a member of an early group of computer experts at Carnegie Mellon University. The researchers participated in online discussions. Fahlman found that many of his fellow scientists had a dry of humor. Communicating through cyberspace, without the benefit of facial expressions or vocal cues to indicate irony, their sarcasm came across as harsh.

In a 1982 virtual message, Scott Fahlman proposed the use of a smiley face, 🙂, to clarify the tone of their messages. Fahlman was pleasantly surprised when participants began to use his contrived icon to denote the emotional tenor of their messages.

In the last twenty-five years, the smiling icon has taken the world of e-mail by storm. Now called emoticons, Fahlman’s original sideways smiley face design sparked the creation of thousands of variations.

Still, the best smiles are not in masterpiece paintings, bright yellow logos, or computer icons. Best of all are the smiles on the faces of children and adults when they are treated with love. Often those smiles are a response to our smile.

To borrow a line from the musical Annie, “You’re never fully dressed without a smile.”


-Kirk H. Neely 

© H-J Weekly, September 2007

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