America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
Smile Your Way to Success
By M.J. Coreil
4 December 2015
Hold onto your lips, folks ― the hottest trend in self-improvement has arrived. Smile shaping is taking the country by storm, and classes can’t keep up with demand.
What the heck is smile shaping, you may be asking yourself. With roots in ethology, the science of animal behavior, smile shaping uses systematic exercises to train people to use various forms of smiling to meet challenging social situations. For example: want to cast a malicious smirk in the direction of your nemesis? Or perhaps don a flirtatious grin to attract that hottie across the room? Then smile shaping is just the thing for you.
While some observers view smile shaping as an offshoot of laughter yoga, others maintain it has closer affinity with career counseling. Like laughter yoga, smile shaping builds on the principle that your brain can’t distinguish between genuine and mimicked emotion. Fake laughter has the same beneficial effects on your body as natural laughter, and likewise, fake smiles can produce the feelings associated with smiling. Also, following in the footsteps of laughter yoga with its clubs for practitioners, smile clubs have been popping up around the country.
However, the swiftness with which the corporate community and professional development gurus have adopted smile shaping accounts for its association with job performance. Being able to show the right smile for the occasion has become an essential skill for occupational success, such as being tech savvy. And as a managerial tool, sending recalcitrant employees out for smile training is considered one of the most important breakthroughs in personnel management.
Through a series of exercises involving facial contortions, vocalization and social interaction, trainees learn the basic repertoire of smiling: the goofy smile, the wistful smile, the come-hither, the sincere smile, the Mona Lisa, the maniacal smile, the ultimate smirk, the benevolent smile, the Shirley Temple (dimples not included), and many more. Proficient practitioners are able to instantly summon the perfect smile for any occasion, while actually feeling the emotions behind it. The potential benefits are seemingly limitless – being able to control one’s moods through the mere contraction of muscles – what a breakthrough for psychotherapy and the self-help movement!
Renowned smile shaping expert Dr. Houkares summed it up: “The principle of faking it in general has gained widespread popularity in the West. It’s real if you believe it, dammit. Authenticity can be simulated!”
M.J. Coreil is an anthropologist currently living in Portland, Oregon who writes satires, essays and commentaries about contemporary society and culture. Some of these are found on her website tropicofcandor.com. Her essay “Soul Repair” recently appeared in Oregon Humanities.