The Smile’s Secret

The human face is able to make over twenty facial expressions. The common man is able to decipher about seven of the basic expressions. The most easily recognizable is also the most worthy, a good old fashioned smile.


Fess Parker giving a Crockett Grin – Source –

Davy Crockett once claimed he could grin a raccoon out of a tree. Someone called him on it and put him to the test. Crockett stood in front of a tree and grinned, grinned, and grinned, but the ‘coon grinned right back. Finally, after more  than an hour had passed, Crockett took an axe and chopped the tree down. Looking for the ‘coon, all he found was a knot that looked enough like a raccoon to deceive everyone. All around the knot was smoothed without any bark. Crockett announced that he may not have been able to grin the non-existent raccoon out of the tree, but he did grin the bark off of it.

Davy Crockett obviously had a great deal of faith in his smile’s strength, but is there anything to it? What power does a smile actually have to affect the people around us?

Kinds of Smiles

Scientists have determined that there are two basic smiles, genuine smiles or Duchenne smiles (named for the scientist who studied them), and social smiles. The main difference is the activity of the obicularis occuli muscle, the muscles around the eye that can give you crows feet. Most people can’t contract this muscle voluntarily while putting on a social smile. The absence of activity around the corners of the eyes can indicate the authenticity of the smile.

Purpose of Smiles

Social smiles may have the stigma of hypocrisy, or even deceit, but really it’s the motives behind the face that matter. Sometimes social smiles are there to present a bold front to danger, or a moment of kindness to a worried friend. The basic social contract of humanity entails moments where we have to assume an air of cheerfulness or interest where we might not have one in most cases.

Smiles with Accents
eiffel tower

Source –

Though smiles are universally recognized in every country, each nation has what Paul Ekman referred to as, display rules. These rules govern how we display these universal emotions. Whether to smile at a bad situation or grimace, when to smile at strangers, or when to present a stiff upper lip. In the United States, it is interesting to note that we smile more often statistically than other countries.

The Country Smile

There are, if you visit the rural country, a kind of people who smile at everyone, and we are not referring to mental ward patients. The common man in a small town is likely to smile at everyone he meets. It’s what you do. The Southern states are well known for their hospitality and warmth, always being kind enough to grant a generous smile to a stranger. In the rural parts of the Northern states similar behavior can be seen.

farmer smiling

Source –

The cause of this behavior can be found in the culture. The country, like any culture, has its own set of display rules that determine when to smile, frown, or pull out the shotgun. The opinion can be summed up in this phrase, “Everyone deserves respect, until they prove otherwise.”


Whether defusing a difficult situation or charming your friends, a smile can make the difference. While walking down the street simply saying, “Good afternoon!” with a smile can make a person’s day. There are many things to frown at in the world. Like Davy Crockett, determine to meet them with a grin.

Further Reading:

Lip Service by Marianne LaFrance


One thought on “The Smile’s Secret

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s