| Photo by ciro@tokyo on Creative Commons/Flickr
If the eyes are the window to the soul, a smile is a door to the heart. How much does the human smile contribute to forming meaningful human relationships? Do you remember the first time your lover gave you a heart-thumping smile? Perhaps, it was such a simple, almost unconscious gesture that turned out to be a life-changing event. It was a safe and subtle invitation to intimacy, as most smiles are. We signal our willingness to engage someone in a social situation with a smile, whereas we show our disgust or revulsion with a pout or a frown.
A human smile must have a survival function because infants show an innate capacity for it even before learning to talk. Have you seen an infant give a full, whole-hearted smile that works like magic to the mother? The mother returns the smile, cooing softly to the baby. The baby’s smile has biological more than social function for it invites the mother to provide physical and emotional nurturance that helps cement the mother and child bond called attachment. The mother’s ability to provide physical and emotional nurturance and form an emotional attachment with the baby is fundamental for the baby’s survival and later normal physical, emotional, intellectual, and social development. This mutual mother and child attachment guarantees the baby’s ability to thrive and determines the mother’s conscientious efforts to feed and nurture the helpless child. All these starts from a simple “smile.”
As we mature, the function of a smile takes on a more social nature, although the germinal seed of emotional attachment continues to be its driving force. We signal our readiness to engage or invite people to get involved with us through a smile in social situations. But how does one determine if the smile is genuine, fake, or a perfunctory one?
“It’s no wonder why politicians love to smile, and some of them can really fake it good to get votes. If you are tongue-tied or don’t know what to say when smitten with a beloved, just give her a Duchenne smile. You can never go wrong.”
The French neurologist, Guillaume Duchenne, distinguished between a fake and a genuine smile, one that comes from the heart. The genuine smile became known as the Duchenne smile in his honor. It is characterized by positive emotion and signaled by upturned lips and crinkly eyes. Most of us can intuitively distinguish between the two, which leads me to suspect that it’s an innate capacity for warding off impostors who may end up breaking our heart, should we fall for the ploy.
Even the Filipino culture has a word for the fake or malicious smile, Tawang aso, which reinforces the belief that the ability to discern and distinguish between real and contrived smiles cuts across cultures. Similarly, a real smile means the same thing in different cultural settings, which is primordially an invitation to intimacy.
The power of a smile to influence our hearts is captured by such expressions as “a disarming smile,” “smiley eyes,” or “smiley face.” We all respond favorably towards such behaviors or signals. It’s no wonder why politicians love to smile, and some of them can really fake it good to get votes. If you are tongue-tied or don’t know what to say when smitten with a beloved, just give her a Duchenne smile. You can never go wrong.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.