What’s in a smile?

Have I mentioned how much I just love airports?  Don’t get me wrong, the designers go through a lot of effort to make them comfortable but I’ve just spent far too much time in them over the last seven years to appreciate all their hard work.  So when I found myself heading to Salt Lake City recently it was a mix of “awesome-sauce” because I was going to be shooting with the ladies of Pure Photography and “Oh good Lord, not another security checkpoint”.  But hey, it is what it is, and there’s no reason to share my misery with the rest of the world.  So I cracked a smile, told a few bad jokes, said good morning and thank you for the help.  There isn’t anything terribly uncommon about that, right?  Apparently it was uncommon enough to surprise the airline ticketing and rental car agents who both gave me free upgrades as a thank you of their own.  Just because I had a sincere smile on my face and I was friendly?  How cool is it that a smile got me more leg room on a plane!?  So while I was sitting there, stretching my legs out for the hour flight, I started wondering what is it with a smile that makes the world a better place, even when we’re going through a security checkpoint?

  A recent study of over 1,000 participants at the University of British Columbia found that women found a man more attractive sans smile.  Participants rated photos of smiling men lowest compared to images of men displaying looks of pride or even shame.  The study offered a few possible explanations including that pride may be an indicator of social or economic status.  Kind of like the Ferrari key fob sitting next to him at the bar.  We all know men and women are different and this area is certainly no different.  Overall the male participants rated the smiling women more attractive.  A little side note, the study wasn’t looking to find if someone was boyfriend or girlfriend material, just initial attraction.  In support of this, the study also pointed out that the man’s smile was also rated as essential in the subsequent social interaction following initial attraction.  So that Ferrari key is only going to get you so far guys.   Louis Armstrong once said “When you’re smilin’…keep on smilin’.  All the world smiles with you.”  Good ol’ Louis was really on to something.  When we see someone smiling we feel a shared sense of happiness caused by mirror neurons in our own brains.  Scientists have used imaging to explore the brains of people who see another person smiling.  As expected the visual areas of the brain light up but so do the areas of the brain that control our own smiling muscles, causing us to smile in return.  This helps to explain why your house guests smile when they see your latest family portrait.  Not only do you look amazing but their brains are actually sharing in the happiness, and goofy good times, your photographer and you created.

When we laugh and smile the body releases several hormones, including endorphins.  Endorphins are the body’s natural version of opiates and have the ability to produce an overall feeling of well being.   That same smile and laughter also helps to raise the number of antibody producing cells and enhance the effectiveness of T cells within the body.  Combined, these help boost the immune system resulting in a healthier you and fewer physical symptoms of stress.  There are even studies to support the old adage of “grin and bear it.”  In these studies participants actually reporting feel less intense pain when they were smiling compared to frowning.

As photographers it’s always in our best interest to see those pearly whites.  Aside from most of us being goof balls at heart and love having a great time with our clients, a smiling happy face helps you and others naturally feel better about the rock star on the other side of the our lenses.

See you next time everybody…and for goodness sake, smile. 🙂

Sean

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