My Thoughts on the Smile


Recovering from the flu, a tad tired of body and soul; I was waiting until I could smile, before I started writing again.

It seemed necessary to be able to smile, to tell a happy tale.

I grew up in a family that seldom smiled. We believed that frivolous smiles were for the empty-headed, we ourselves walked around in smug scholarly scowls. I got married into a home that smiled a lot. We believe that the valiant put aside all emotions and smile a broad smile. Not smiling is for the feeble-hearted.

Even in my flu recovery state, I’m not against smiling. A smile is a beautiful expression sure to light up the room.

A few weeks ago we had a young couple visiting us with their 9-month-old. They stayed late, well past the child’s bedtime, and I was amazed at the little one’s patience as the parents kept pressing, “Smile honey. Smile baby. Smile sweetheart.” Tired, her not so little infant head sometimes lolling to the side with the weight of sleep, she kept smiling weakly every time they asked her. By the time they left, the little girl was fast asleep in her basket, still smiling.

Adults seem to need the constant confirmation of a smile – life is good. We sometimes need a smile to the exclusion of all other emotions. Children are born to please and they pick this message up very early – SMILE – the greatest gift you can give the adults in your life. They learn to deny, to put aside all emotions and feelings, and smile.

Two unexpected incidents occurred one afternoon in school. Young ‘Y’, at 10, knew few emotions. The only little girl in a large family of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, she charmed all with a constant smile. That afternoon ‘Y’ was in a fit of rage and helpless frustration; her face red, tears threatening to spill. The sky turned a sudden grey; a fierce gust of wind and violent rain had us all run for shelter. As we huddled together, alarmed, ‘Y’ moved close to me, “I was shaking with fury and the storm began,” she said calmly.

Children’s emotions are real, and echo in the world around them.

The Smile was a frequent presence at school – spontaneous solitary smiles of discovery, appreciative knowing smiles when a younger child made a conquest, smiles shared as twinkling eyes met across work that revealed a cosmic secret.

Yet, a visitor once remarked that there was an air of austerity in the class, no bright, “this is so much fun!” smiles. We, the children and adults, never felt compelled to freeze our faces in beaming smiles revealing how much fun we were having. “Fun”, what a flippant little word for the deep joy of work!

Like many adults in the supposedly honest, real world, I wear a mask of a weak smile when I’m seething with anger, when I’m so very close to tears, when I’m green with envy. I refuse to recognize my emotions and hope they go away. But they don’t, they grow deeper and stronger and noose tighter around my heart.

In the children’s world – laughter and tears, anger and calm, envy and greed, vulnerability and strength – are all out in the open, recognized and accepted. Children do not question an emotion; they permit it, identify it, express it, they even talk about it, and its effect on others – with courage and empathy, they learn. As they address and confront their emotions, both positive and negative, they stand with honest uncluttered hearts. In the taming of emotions, the gentleness and strength of the human soul always triumph.

I recently learnt about the Enjoyment Smile resulting from amusement and pleasure, the False Smile, made deliberately to convince another that enjoyment is occurring when it is not, the Masking Smile, made to conceal the experience of negative emotions, the Miserable Smile, which acknowledges a willingness to endure an unpleasant circumstance, and 14 others. (Ekman and Friesen)

With children there is only the Felt Smile or Duchnene’s Smile. It begins with joy deep in the heart, the zygomatic major pulling the lip corners upwards, and travels to the orbicularis oculi, which raise the cheeks and gather the skin around the eye sockets making eyes sparkle.

There are all the other emotions and feelings, all to be acknowledged, many to be cherished…
emotionsAnd then there are the precious moments to…

2 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the Smile

  1. I don’t know why, I also grew up in similar situations as you mentioned and continued to do so, because many-a-times I felt, my smile was being misinterpreted. But when I travelled to some other parts of the world, I became less shy about it and smiled a little more often.
    During my Montessori training, I once asked MS, “Ma’m when I’m deeply concentrating on the presentation, to get all those movements right, I cease to smile. But you say that a Montessori adult should smile as she carries on her duties. I’m unable to..”. With that big eyes rolling she looked at me she said ” Pretend first and then you’ll get it. But do smile”.

    But the best comment about smile was from my little NS when he was about 3. Every body assembled in front of the TV on a Friday night and randomly agreed to watch the cookery show “Nigella’s Kitchen”. I sat down to sort the big basket of vegies and paid some careless attention to it. I was hell bent on finishing everything planned and was serious at it. When every other person in the hall was talking and commenting, NS came sat on my lap and kindly looked at me and said “Ma, see how much this aunty smiles when she cooks, doesn’t she ma?!!” Everybody laughed at me!! I smiled sheepishly, only wondering….
    Then the truth in the words -“No body lives a more righteous life than a child”,resounded in my ears (again in MS’s voice). I felt honored to be in his presence and ignored the rest. The smile might have changed but I paid no attention towards it.


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