Are we smiling enough these days? I mean, on the whole, as a society?
If we happen to glance at people around us in a cafe, we would notice that most of them smile half-way, without really putting in much energy into those smiles. A grin nowadays involves stretching those smile-muscles a few millimeters less than in years gone by. Gone are the days when people were unconscious of those watching.
The uninhibited nature of happiness, reflected in amply glowing faces, seems to have been tempered by the stressful times that we live in.
Few people these days even seem to have the time to smile! It is as if our display of happiness has reduced proportionately to our span of attention. Thus at a social ‘do’ one spots several polite smiles being exchanged, but few guffaws and hearty laughs, or fulsome grins. A status conscious city like Chandigarh actually seems to encourage only the polite dignified smile and some people are loath to show the full repertoire of their teeth.
Indeed it appears that both the frequency and width of our collective smile have decreased. What is more, street urchins and labour folk still possess some of the broadest smiles, thereby debunking the theory that wealth can lead to happiness.
A report in Live Science magazine states that cultural factors, personality traits and even our genes affect our ability to smile. And Shawn Achor, author of “The Happiness Advantage” argues that smiling more often can actually rewire the brain into adopting positive thinking patterns more frequently than negative patterns.
Considering the fact that a smile is a direct indicator of happiness, what then are the inhibiting influences affecting our smiles? The answer seems to be that these days we talk more about problems and issues, which of course obviates the need to smile at all.
The Gross National Happiness Index adopted by countries like Bhutan as a true indicator of progress revolves around parameters such as education, healthcare and living standards. India ranks 118th on the global Happiness Index scale, but perhaps measuring the happiness of people across a country like India through surveys may not be indicative of the real mood of the nation. Research also indicates that development related factors may have nothing to do with our smiling and happiness.
It also appears that spiritually minded people feel greater inner peace which makes them smile more. Conversely, it is a well known fact that traders in a stock exchange have the biggest frowns in the business, closely followed by soccer coaches, when their team is losing!
A picture that most of us would recall from our history books in school showed Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru laughing with full mirth in each other’s company. The political leaders of today, just like most of us, seem to have lost that art. An exception is Barack Obama who obviously had more burdens on his shoulders than most of us but his smile as President was one of the broadest ever seen.
Charlie Chaplin famously said “I have many problems in my life, but my lips don’t know that. They always smile.”
It is thus the inner attitude to life that matters. The rich and the famous are clearly not the most joyous people around. It is the steadfast determination to smile that clinches the happiness game. Smiles cannot always be linked to friendliness though. Indians are not known to smile at strangers on the street. But we do go out of our way to show someone the way if they are lost. We will even accompany them to their destination at times.
On the other hand, many westerners smile and greet passersby every morning, but are not likely to take kindly a query regarding the route to a nearby place. Google maps have done away with the need for asking directions anyway, but some folks still like to follow the old method, and why not?
Human interaction should mostly be about smiling conversations, unless grave subjects like the cricket scores are being discussed! Ultimately, we would all love to be like Paul Simon, who once said “I’ve got nothing to do today, but smile.”