Smile—It’s Good for You!
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN JAPAN
WHEN genuine it melts away the ice of suspicion. It removes layers of prejudice accumulated through the years. It softens hearts frozen by disbelief and mistrust. It brings relief and joy to many. It says, “I understand. Don’t worry.” It makes the appeal, “I hope we can be friends.” And what is this powerful tool? It is a smile. It can be YOUR smile.
What is a smile? A smile is generally defined in dictionaries as ‘a facial expression in which the corners of the mouth curve slightly upward, expressing amusement, approval, or joy.’ Herein lies the secret of the warm smile. A smile is a nonverbal way of expressing one’s feelings or communicating one’s emotions to others. Of course, a smile might also express scorn or disdain, but that is another subject.
Does smiling really make a difference? Well, do you remember when someone’s smile brought you a sense of relief or made you feel relaxed? Or when the absence of a smile made you feel nervous or even rejected? Yes, a smile does make a difference. It affects both the one who is smiling and the one smiled at. The Bible character Job said of his adversaries: “I would smile at them—they would not believe it—and the light of my face they would not cast down.” (Job 29:24) “The light” of Job’s face may have denoted his brightness or cheerfulness.
The positive effect of a smile remains true to this day. A warm smile may help relieve built-up tensions. It may prove to be like a safety valve on a pressure cooker. When we feel tense or frustrated, a smile can help us to alleviate that tension and cope with our frustration. For instance, Tomoko often observed others looking at her. She assumed that they were critical of her, as they quickly averted their eyes when they saw that she noticed them. Tomoko felt lonely and unhappy. One day a friend suggested that she smile at people when she caught their eye. Tomoko tried it for two weeks and was amazed that everyone smiled back at her! Tensions were gone. “Life has become really enjoyable,” she says. Yes, a smile makes us feel more at ease with others and helps us become more friendly.
The Good Effect on You and Others
Smiling can affect a person emotionally. It helps put one in a right frame of mind. It is good for physical health too. There is a saying, “Laughter is good medicine.” In fact, medical authorities note that one’s frame of mind has much to do with one’s physical condition. Many studies indicate that prolonged stress, negative emotions, and the like weaken our immune system. On the other hand, smiling makes us feel good, and laughter even fortifies our immune system.
A smile has a great effect on others. Imagine a situation where you are receiving counsel or being admonished. What facial expression would you like to see on the counselor’s face? A cold or stern expression may convey anger, irritation, rejection, or even hostility. On the other hand, would not a warm smile on the counselor’s face perhaps make you feel more at ease and thus more receptive to the counsel? Certainly, a smile helps to reduce misunderstandings in tense situations.
Positive Thoughts Make Smiling Easier
Of course, most of us are not like professional actors who can radiate a flashing smile at any given moment; nor do we desire to be such. We want our smiles to be natural and genuine. A communication school instructor commented: ‘It is important to relax and give a heartfelt smile, or else your smile may look artificial.’ How can we sincerely smile from the heart? Here the Bible can help us. Regarding our speech it tells us at Matthew 12:34, 35: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure sends out good things, whereas the wicked man out of his wicked treasure sends out wicked things.”
Remember, a smile is a nonverbal way of communicating our feelings. Bearing in mind that we speak “out of the abundance of the heart” and that “good things” come out of a “good treasure,” it becomes evident that the key to a genuine smile lies in our thoughts and emotions. Yes, what is in our hearts will no doubt be expressed, sooner or later, not only by our words and deeds but also by our facial expressions. Thus, we need to continue to work on dwelling on positive thoughts. Our facial expression is strongly affected by our thoughts about others. So let us concentrate on the finer qualities of family members, people in our neighborhood, and our good friends. We will find it much easier to smile at them. It will be a genuine smile, for behind it will be a heart filled with goodness, mercy, and kindness. Our eyes will be bright, and others will know that we really mean it.
It must be recognized, though, that because of their background or environment, some people find it more difficult to smile than others. Even if they are filled with goodwill for their neighbors, they are just not accustomed to smiling at them. For instance, Japanese men are traditionally expected to keep perfect composure and to maintain silence at all times. Therefore, many of them are not accustomed to smiling at those who are considered strangers. The same may be true of other cultures. Or some individuals may be shy by nature and may not find it easy to smile at others. Hence, we should not judge others by how big their smile is or how often they smile. People are different, and so are their characteristics and ways of communicating with others.
Nevertheless, if you find it challenging to smile at others, why not work at it? The Bible advises: “Let us not give up in doing what is fine . . . Let us work what is good toward all.” (Galatians 6:9, 10) One way to work “what is good” to others is to smile at them—and this is within your means! So take the initiative in greeting others and giving a word of encouragement with a smile. It will be greatly appreciated. Also, you will discover that smiling becomes much easier as you develop the habit.
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A Word of Caution
It is a sad fact that not every smile we see is genuine. Con men, swindlers, unscrupulous salespeople, and others may flash million-dollar smiles. They know that a smile can disarm people and put them off guard. People with dubious morals or unclean motives may also put on an enticing smile. Yet, their smiles are empty; they are deceptive. (Ecclesiastes 7:6) So while not being overly suspicious of others, we need to appreciate that living in “the last days,” which are hard to deal with, we need to ‘prove ourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves,’ as Jesus himself recommended.—2 Timothy 3:1; Matthew 10:16.
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Take the initiative in greeting others with a smile