Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Every time you smile at someone, it’s a gift to that person.” A smiling demeanour does not necessarily reflect one’s happiness level. In fact, it is but an attitude and a way of life, intrinsic or learnt behaviour. Let us introspect where we stand on this matter …How generous are we with smile gifts? Does smiling come easily to us? Do we readily smile at family members, neighbours, service providers, clients or fellow commuters? According to published research, our generosity with smiles or the lack of it is to a large extent determined by one’s culture. Different cultures interpret and value smiling differently; studies have found that Russians do not smile easily because it implies you are foolish, or manipulative. Hispanic cultures are also noted to be a non-smiley lot who prefer to wear proud and elegant facial expressions. However, in India and Argentina smiling freely was found to be associated with dishonesty and stealth. Japanese, in contrast, smile to show respect or hide their true feelings. According to this study, Americans, Australians and Canadians are reported to have smiling cultures and smile readily to express happiness, gratitude or initiate social interactions.
What is it that makes some cultures more ‘smiley’ than others? According to some culture analysts, countries that were built and populated with many different cultures coming together smile more readily and unreservedly than the more homogenous nations. It can be argued that such findings are mere generalizations and therefore inherently flawed. Be that as it may, there is convincing evidence in other cultural studies that smiling spontaneously as a matter of habit is culturally defined and entrenched as a way of life among certain groups of people.
There is however no hard and fast rule that social behaviour patterns remain constant over any period of time. Today, as leadership gurus and well-being consultants are highlighting the benefits of smiling to enhance physical, mental and corporate paybacks, it is becomingtrendy to wear smiley cheerful expressions as the default setting in everyday life. So long as these ‘default settings’ are not faked for material gain, it appears to be a laudable behaviour change. The social benefits of smiling are well documented. For example, a genuine smile can make you more attractive and trustworthy in social and professional settings. The health benefits of smiling are even more impressive. Smiling is known to improve your mood, boost immunity, lower blood pressure and even provide pain relief.
In addition to what smiling can do for us, it can work wonders for those around us. A smile is contagious; if you smile at someone, they can’t help smiling back, unless that person is making a conscious effort not to.
In causing another person to smile, you never know what a blessing you may inadvertently pass on; you may be that ’light’ in another’s darkness, that ‘ray of hope’ in despair or that ‘strand of caring’ in difficult times. Let’s never pass up the opportunity to brighten other lives with our smile. As this Anonymous writer succinctly puts it, “A smile costs nothing, but creates much. It enriches those that receive it, without impoverishing those who give it. It creates happiness in the home, fosters goodwill in business, and is the countersign of friends. It provides rest to the weary, hope to the discouraged, cheer to the sad, and is Nature’s best antidote for trouble. Yet, it cannot be bought, borrowed, or stolen, for it is of no earthly good until it is given away.”