By Rev SEIK PITOI
THERE is a chorus we used to sing in church that talked about smiling. We usually sang this song when it was time to move around and shake hands.
It starts: “smile awhile and give your face a rest…” As you sing, you smile at the person next to you and shake his or her hand. The song was translated in Motu as: “Ba kiri bena ba moale…” Literally, it means ‘laugh and be happy’.
For years, I wondered whether there was an actual word for smile. Kiri means laugh. But I soon realised that the same word is used in both cases. I believe the thinking here is that a smile is the precursor to a laugh! Or that a smile is a ‘silent laugh’. In any case, both smiling and laughter are signs that you are happy!
You will recall an article I wrote some time ago on laughter. We saw the importance of loosening up regularly and having a good hearty laugh in order to relieve stress and enjoy the benefits of the internal workout in our bodies. Well, today, we will discuss the action that takes place before our belly laugh…and that is to smile!
I am often amused when I see my old childhood photos. In many photos I see myself smiling, or at least, with a grin that resembles a smile. But my adolescent photos are terrible as I didn’t smile that much.
One particular photo that I am quite ashamed of (which I couldn’t locate in time for this article) is a family photo taken at my dad’s investiture at the Government House. The Queen, who had visited PNG aboard her yacht, the Royal Britannia, knighted my dad. My cousin, Patrick, who was living with us at the time, joined us at the ceremony and stood with us in the family photo. In it, my two sisters, mum and dad and Patrick have beautiful smiles on their faces while I look like I had constipation! I just couldn’t smile on cue.
Sometimes I feel terrible and I am in no mood to smile. In deep thought, I forget to smile. One day some years back, my daughter told me that some of her friends in the youth group said they were afraid of me because I always looked serious.
“Dad, try to smile a bit more. You’re scaring my friends”! I was annoyed to hear that. “Do you expect me to walk around like a Cheshire cat, smiling to myself for nothing? Only demented people did that,” I replied.
But I did think about what she said and tried putting myself in a young person’s shoes. Yes, maybe they did have a point, seeing this big bearded pastor walk around looking so serious. So I made a conscious decision then to put my own negative feelings aside and smile a bit more!
There have been many studies done over the years on the power of smiling. They wanted to prove that people with a propensity to display genuine happiness are likely to enjoy quality social relationships.
In one study, they collected some yearbook photos from a small women’s college in 1958 and 1960. The researchers analysed those photos for signs of genuine smiles. The people in those photos were contacted when they were about 27 years old–about five years after the photos were taken.
They found that the more these women were smiling in their yearbook photos, the more likely they were to be married five years later. They also contacted these women much later – when they were about 52 years old. This was many years after their photos were taken! Yet, the more they were smiling in their yearbook photos, the more they reported being satisfied in their marriage at age 52!
Another study contacted university alumni (men and women) and got responses from nearly 500 former students. Like in the other study, they analysed the respondents’ yearbook photos for signs of genuine smiling. This study, though, was interested in divorce.
They found a reliable connection between smile intensity in yearbook photos and the likelihood of divorce later in life. It seems that people who smiled more in their yearbook photo were less likely to get divorced later in life. A similar study also saw those with big genuine smiles in their photos lived slightly longer than those who didn’t smile that much. Well, we know that many factors determine longevity in a person, or the success of a marriage. Not just smiling. But it is something to think about, nonetheless.
Many cultures in the world have different views of smiling. A young Indian woman, Seerat Sangha, researched other cultures and made some interesting observations. She found that in the country voted the “happiest” in the word, Switzerland, visitors often reported that the Swiss don’t smile that much. They don’t go walking around smiling at every stranger to prove they are the happiest people on earth. That’s because they value their privacy.
In their own circles, indeed, they smile and are happy. The same can be said about Russians who don’t smile at strangers. Your smiling at them might make them nervous or suspicious. Meanwhile, the Japanese also don’t smile. They hold strongly to humility and respect and so they suppress their emotions in respect of the other person.
In PNG, we laugh and smile a lot. Our people are generally good natured and often a smile and greeting to the person next to you in a PMV will often be returned in like manner. I have often had wonderful conversations with the stranger next to me in the bus or better still, while in the queue at the bank.
Yes, you do have the odd one who peers at you like Rambo when you greet them, but they are usually in the minority. They are the ones maybe dealing with some issues so they can be excused.
We also know that not all smiles are genuine. You have those who give that fake “crocodile smile” or that “Mona Lisa” kind of mysterious smile.
Sometimes, they give you the creeps! In fact, one researcher, a French anatomist in the 1800s, studied the cheek muscles on the face and the eyes and detected how a fake smile pulled up just the corners of the lips (non-Duchenne smile), while a genuine smile also crinkled the eyes, with the ‘crow’s feet’ around the eyes giving the expression: ‘smiling with the eyes’ (genuine or Duchenne smile).
In fact, like laughter, regardless of whether it is fake or genuine, researchers also found that both kinds of smiles release endorphins and serotonin, our bodies’ feel good and anti-depressant chemicals. In short, smiling is beneficial to our health!
In 1963, the smiley face we have on our computers and everywhere else today was created by Harvey Ball. He said ‘Smiley’ was a universal symbol of being happy, regardless of colour, race or creed. To see ‘Smiley’ in your email or on Facebook, sometimes with a wink in the eye, can bring a smile to your face. It means the other person is sharing a light hearted moment with you.
I am still learning to smile when things don’t go right. I try to smile when I get cut off in traffic, or when the car breaks down. I win sometimes; other times I cannot help but have a little moan about it first. Still, I’ve experienced that a smile to myself, even in a bad situation, makes the problem seem not so bad after all.
Our perception changes when we smile. A potentially volatile situation also can be calmed down with a smile and a kind word. A smile is a tool; a gift. It can lift up someone who is down, or encourage someone who has had a bad day.
Giving someone a smile means that you value the worth of that person. Smiling works like magic to bring peace and harmony. The great things is that it brings peace and harmony to you first; then it blesses the other person.
Times are tough and sometimes life is ‘no laughing (or smiling) matter’. However, as a Christian, I am reminded about another little songs the kids sing. “With Christ in my vessel I can smile at the storm…”
Indeed, with the Lord Jesus in our lives, we can smile at any storm of life that comes our way. And while we smile at the storm, let’s give one another a big smile as well. In fact, stop reading this right now and turn to the person next to you and give him/ her a big smile.
As they say, when you smile, the whole world will smile with you!
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.