Smiling Hurts – But Do It Anyway!

Your smile says you are happy, confident...and approachable. If you don't smile, people will think the opposite. What emotions do you want to show the world?

Being shy was my first excuse not to smile. As a first-born grandchild, I was sheltered amongst the doting grownups in my large family and I didn't play with my peers until kindergarten. Just as I was coming out of my shell, retainers and braces hit me. My self-confidence evaporated again. No big all-out smiles here either.

As I've aged, and the braces revealed straight teeth, I've tried to smile more. Years of little practice meant smiling is not natural for me. Photos are okay. I can smile for a few seconds, but that's it. Then it starts to hurt!

Sometimes when I'm smiling that full-toothy grin, I notice people who I am talking to are busy trying to clean their teeth with their tongue or discreetly wiping the sides of their mouths. Then I get self-conscious. Are they trying to tell me I have broccoli stuck in my teeth? My smile and confidence shut down.

Smiling is not always appropriate. Growing up, some people in my family used sarcasm and put-downs that were delivered with a smile and a laugh. But it was not funny. It was mean and totally inexcusable behavior.

I tend to smile and laugh when someone is yelling at me or criticizing me. I should be serious and making it clear that I don't approve of that behavior. I notice the same inappropriate smiling in my daughter when she's nervous or when she's upset by my disapproval after she gets caught teasing her little brother. But in order to change her behavior I myself need to model the appropriate times to smile and the appropriate times to be serious or to just be sad or cry.

Healthy smiling is good for your mood, too. If you can't break out a belly laugh, start with smiling. If you can do it in a mirror without negative self-talk, even better. I find everything around me starts looking up when I can get the corners of my mouth to curve up and I can relax into the smiling experience.

If I had to be on a float in a parade, I can do the little wave and shout out greetings. I can even dance and be goofy. Just don't ask me to smile straight for an hour or two. I'm not there yet!

~ Annette Rene

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