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Back to the Basics of Happiness: Smile!

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I'm not a very smiley person, and lately I've noticed that when I do smile, my face sometimes feels like I haven't smiled in a long time.

I've been trying to remember to smile more, even just walking down the street. At first I felt a bit silly, but I quickly realized that no one minds if you're looking happy. I also try to give a real smile whenever I interact with someone -- buying a cup of coffee, checking in at the gym, going through security before going up to an office. (Is it only in New York City that you have to show your driver's license in order to go into an office building?) I find it draining to make polite small talk with strangers, but I can give a real smile.

Facial expressions don't merely reflect emotions; they also influence emotions. In facial feedback, studies show, the mere act of smiling makes people happier -- even when they smile mechanically, as I'm doing, or when they're asked not to smile but rather to contract specific facial muscles.

Random smiling is an example of my resolution to act the way I want to feel: while people suppose that feelings inspire actions, in fact, actions also inspire feelings. So by acting happier, I should feel happier. And you know, I think I do. "Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile," Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, "but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy."

Also, because of emotional contagion, people often mimic the faces of people they see. One reason that people are attracted to happy people is that they catch that happiness themselves.

The biggest challenge for smiling is to remember to do it. I'm reminded of my various efforts to improve my posture. I'm good for a little while, then get distracted and don't think about it for the rest of the day. One strategy: smile whenever I see a traffic light.

One note about smiling: from the comments to the three-part Tigger vs. Eeyore discussion, I get the impression that some Tiggers make a habit of telling people "Smile!" and that many Eeyores find this habit intrusive and deeply annoying. So it appears more effective to let others catch your smile rather than telling them to smile. "But they'd be happier if they'd smile!" you may protest. Maybe, but the Eeyores report that being told to smile doesn't make them feel like smiling. Just the opposite.

Do you find that you can boost your happiness by smiling or through other similar measures? What works for you?

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I'm working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone's project will look different, but it's the rare person who can't benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each post will help you think about your own happiness project.

My children's/young-adult literature reading groups are famous! First The New York Times, and now the Paris Review blog! My friend and fellow kidlit fan Sarah Burnes is guest-blogging there. Yay.

If you like the blog, you'll love the book. Read more about "The Happiness Project." (I can't resist adding that it's a #1 New York Times bestseller.)

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