woman pretending to smile

We are all too familiar with the many challenges that come with living life. Life has its ups and-downs. You can be certain that life will inevitably present a host of challenges, but it is of equal importance to recognize that it will provide you victories as well. It is often in these challenging times that we get lost. There are some who find themselves broken even in the midst of the good times. It is determining a person’s authentic expressions of emotions that is often difficult. Many of us wear masks to disguise our true and inner feelings and emotional states. These masks may come in various forms and may present through our body’s posture, our facial expressions; our laughter and our tears; our communication and the language that we choose to use; our physical and mental health; and our interaction with others. Determining the authentic nature of an individual may prove difficult based solely upon their external expressions of emotions and feelings.


A smile can be one of the most endearing aspects of an individual. A smile can light up a room and an individual’s corner of the world. It is capable of uplifting the spirits of others. It may convey love, acceptance and affection. Yet, there is a hidden side to smiling that we seldom consider or that may be revealed. Smiling may not always represent the authentic feelings and emotions of an individual. It may be simply a facade acting as an outward appearance to conceal a less pleasant or creditable state of being.

There are many aspects to smiling and uncovering the authenticity behind the smile may prove your greatest challenge. Herman Melville described smiling as “the chosen vehicle of all ambiguities.” Smiling may be a decoy purposefully trying to mislead or lure an individual into a trap. It may be designed to entice an individual away from an intended pathway. Smiling has an alluring quality powerful enough to charm, attract, and tempt any person. It is with the simple act of smiling that we can inspire, transform and generate a positive reaction. Smiling is capable of warding off unwanted and unsavory persons. It is through the act of smiling that we may subtly show our distain, disgust or dislike for someone or something. The act of smiling may also provide an insight into our personal state of being.  It may be through smiling that we unveil an expression of embarrassment, shame, humiliation, guilt or stress.

Undoubtedly, there are many aspects of smiling, and understandably, the simple act of smiling is much more complicated than may be observed.


Smiling is one of our greatest defense mechanisms. It may be triggered by a need to protect ourselves or to ward off danger. In the simple gesture of a smile, we are offering a “peace offering” and a token of acceptance. It may be a distraction from one’s true feelings and emotional state.

It may be an individual’s intentions to avoid his or her own reality. Facing the reality of our lives can sometimes be difficult. We must accept responsibility and ownership of our lives. Either way, it is important to know whether the smile we are wearing is a mask, or is truly symbolic of our emotional and psychological state.

For individuals struggling with mental health challenges; a smile may be erected to ward off any questions of an individual’s wellbeing. A smile may act as a barricade hiding the deep evidence of stress, anxiety and depression. Distinguishing between an authentic smile and a composed smile begins by knowing an individual. How well do you know the person who is presenting with a smile? Are you aware of any struggles or hardships that they may be facing?

A smile is not always representative of the internal self. Smiles have an ability to mask the authentic feelings a person is experiencing. We often think of a smile as a representation of peace, joy, excitement, happiness, and overall, contentment in life. However, when an individual is struggling with psychological or physical issues; it may be all they can do to maintain the simplest of smiles.


There is no doubt that smiling has a vast number of benefits both physiologically and psychologically. Andy Rooney, the iconic television news anchor and journalist once said “If you smile when you are alone, then you really mean it.” Mr. Rooney hit the nail on the head. For after all, we are no truer persons than when we are alone with our thoughts.

Smiling has an array of benefits. Research conducted at Wayne State University of 230 baseball players provided an intriguing argument for smiling. The researchers found that players who had partial smiles typically lived two years longer than those without. Furthermore, they discovered that players who smiled, as the old expression goes, “from ear-to-ear,” lived approximately seven years longer than those who had no outward expression.

The benefits of smiling go well beyond the outward expression. The benefits not only have an ability of changing your momentary condition, but they are capable of having a prolonged effect upon the physiological makeup and structure of your brain. If you are smiling, you are releasing hormones that have a positive effect upon your overall person. Additionally, the physical expression of a smile can have a positive influence upon others; which indirectly has an effect upon your life.

Research has further shown that smiling may contribute to a decrease in stress-induced hormones, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and may contribute to a healthier perspective on life. Therefore, smiling has an effect upon your overall physical and
mental health.

Let’s be real, sometimes it is difficult to find something to smile about. Researcher Andrew Newberg suggests that “We just ask a person, before they engage in a conversation with someone else, visualize someone they deeply love, or recall an event that brought them deep satisfaction and joy. It’s such an easy exercise, and we train people to do it in our workshops.”

When our smiles are authentic; we are igniting a well of positive emotions. Research has indicated that children smile upward of 400 times a day, but sadly, on average, adults smile approximately 40-50 times a day. Moreover, the smiles from an adult are sometimes microscopic, compared to the larger than life smiles expressed by children. We must dig deep inside our inner person and find that child who may have laid dormant for some time. We must engage that child and convince them to come out and play. Life is way too short to be bogged down by challenges we may face. Life should be lived daily despite the obstacles we may face. We may need to restructure our perception paradigm. Rather than perceiving obstacles as bleak and without hope; we may want to shift our perceptions. Thus, when we face an obstacle in life, rather than seeing the obstacle as a barricade; we should begin viewing all obstacles as a mere challenge in life begging us to maneuver around them.

Smiling may no longer come natural for you, but few things in life really do. So, I encourage you to become comfortable with the act of smiling. Even if you need to set a reminder to smile; it is better to practice than to avoid smiling altogether. You may fi nd smiling in front of others difficult, thinking they may perceive your smile as inauthentic. If so, you may fi nd smiling in front of a mirror a good exercise. When you are comfortable with your smile, smiling in front of others will feel natural.

Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S.