A SMILE – that universal symbol that screams HAPPINESS.
While the ability to smile lies within each of us, it is the type of smile we give that defines our genuineness. According to Wikipedia, a smile is ” a facial expression formed primarily by flexing the muscles at the sides of the mouth” and “is an expression denoting pleasure, sociability, happiness or amusement”.
You may not realize, but the genuine smile – the one that reaches your eyes – is called the Duchenne smile after French physician Guilluame Duchenne who studied the physiology of facial expressions in the nineteenth century. Then there’s the fake, “Say Cheese” smile. You know… the one that most of us wear when posing for a photo or just being polite.
But who decided that smiling and happiness were synonymous? If that were the case, then why has HAPPINESS research been such a hot topic in the past 20 years? Why is there 27,609 results when you type the word HAPPINESS into Amazon’s search tool? Even I succumbed to the lure of being happier with the Happiness Jars I gave each of my family members for Christmas one year. The premise: when something makes you happy, you write it down and put it in the jar…
When did we become so UNHAPPY that we need so much help just to be HAPPY?
HAPPINESS is subjective. Research actually confirms what seems logical – rich people are happier than poor people, healthy people are happier than sick people, those who are in good romantic relationships are happier than those who aren’t. We expect positive experiences – buying a new house, getting married, passing an exam, getting a promotion – to affect our happiness more than they do. And we expect negative experiences – divorce, death, car accident – to affect our happiness more than they do.
But perhaps it’s not HAPPINESS that we seek, but MEANING. According to Viktor Frankel, author of one of the ten most influential books in America, “It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness”. Research shows that having a purpose and meaning in life increases the feeling of satisfaction and overall well-being, enhances self-esteem, improves physical and mental health and increases resiliency. In his bestselling 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankel writes:
“This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love”.
The book’s focus on meaning, the value of suffering, and the responsibility to something greater than one’s self is at odds with our current cultural landscape where the pursuit of individual happiness is all consuming.
“But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy'”.
Whether you aspire to be a TAKER – one who leads a happy life, or a GIVER – one who lives a meaningful life, perhaps the quest for either begins with a simple smile.
So as a personal exercise in my search for HAPPINESS and MEANING and in no particular order, here’s a list of 5 things that make ME smile:
- Silly love songs
- Perfectly toasted marshmallows
- An amazing vibe
I’d love to know what’s on your list of 5! Leave it in the comments below.