17 Jun Mona Lisa's Smile

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There were a few things my parents promised me I would appreciate only when I grew up – truffles, Wagnerian opera, poetry, conceptual art, old art, like the Mona Lisa, and gardening.

Apart from poetry, they were pretty much wrong on everything.

Some of this was my fault – due to a refusal to expose myself to enough truffles and Wagner. Modern art I don’t like simply because of the seeming lack of effort that goes into creating it. Gardening was what I did through college to pay the rent – and what was once forced labor is never going to turn into a love. The Mona Lisa? Well, I think I’ve finally worked out why I never liked the painting – it’s that smile, which is supposed to be so mysterious and alluring. To me, it’s always looked slightly forced or at least uncertain, as if Mona Lisa had been sitting in that rigid pose for four hours already, was getting tired of the whole enterprise but was still trying to put on her best face.

It’s not the sort of smile to which your own face reflexively responds with a big happy grin.

And now following some random Googling into the power of smiles, I think I better understand my reaction to Da Vinci’s iconic piece.

As extremely social animals, we humans are very good at discerning between a genuine smile and a polite one. Buffer blog goes into some detail – all of it very interesting – just how quickly we scan faces, make geometric comparisons and conclude whether a smile is “duchenne,” or a true one, in which the corners of our eyes are involved, or just a polite one, in which it’s just the corners of our mouth that are set in motion.)

As every salesperson knows, your smile is one of your best weapons – it’s a terrific way to build rapport, and a pretty good signal when you’re not getting through.

Research in Wales a few years ago tried to put a value on a salesperson’s smile, but at less than 1 percent of the sale price it seemed like a botched experiment. In another British study, researchers using an electromagnetic brain scan machine and heart-rate monitor to create “mood-boosting values” for various stimuli, found that one smile can provide the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars; they also found that smiling can be as stimulating as receiving up to 16,000 pounds in cash.

Now that sounds more like it, although it also suggests the whole idea of trying to put a price on a smile is a flawed endeavor.

What to take away from all this? Smiles are powerful, easier to read than a first-grade primer, and healthy for you (that’s another study).

But despite all these benefits, most of us don’t smile enough; men especially see it as a sign of weakness. (See here and here.)

So starting tomorrow morning why not give yourself a few warm-up smiles after brushing your teeth. Bring both your mouth and eyes into play, and you’ll immediately feel in a better mood and more relaxed. A smile, even when it comes from ourselves, has the power to make the world seem like a better place.

Last modified on Wednesday, 17 June 2015 11:52
Chris Burslem

Chris Burslem is the group managing editor of INSTORE. He loves it when good ideas triumph.