Instant Facelift

For those of us who don’t want or can’t afford, but nevertheless might well benefit from a surgical facelift, may I suggest a quick, easy, painless, free alternative? Smile more.

I’m being a bit jokey here, but I do think there’s a valid case to be made for making this effort, especially as time and stress pull our faces down like heavy drapery.

Mexicans, I’ve observed in the years I’ve lived here in Mexico, are quick to smile genuine smiles. If you study the old folks’ weather-worn faces, you see deeply carved wrinkles by their eyes. When you pass Mexicans of any age on the sidewalk and you make eye contact, you’re sure to exchange smiles. These are guileless smiles, a-sincere-recognition-of-our-shared-humanity smiles. The kind of smile that brightens your day.

Psychologists have a term for this true smile of happiness. They call it a “Duchenne Smile,” which is characterized by narrowed, happy eyes that show crow’s feet wrinkles, as well as the upturned corners of the mouth, which stereotypically are associated with a smile.

We (mostly retired) gringos here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I’m afraid, have a reputation for not smiling. We walk with our heads downcast — no doubt to avoid tripping on the cobblestone streets and wildly uneven sidewalks and breaking a leg. We seldom make eye contact with passersby. (Those of us from big American cities like my New York think we know better than to do that.) We remain for the most part in our own, old, cultural bubbles and charge ahead, seemingly oblivious of others.

A Mexican friend once told me that Mexicans see this behavior as sad. They think we are deeply unhappy people, even, she said, “bitter.” This is sad indeed.

In an ongoing effort to bridge the cultural and language divide, I bought a workbook some time ago from the Warren Hardy Spanish School here, offering to help me progress in my glacial efforts to learn, as the workbook’s cover states, “authentic Mexican Spanish from the heart of Mexico.”

The first chapter is on “Social Protocol,” stressing the importance of such things as greetings, farewells, and requests. “This is important,” the workbook states, “because Hispanics usually perceive Americans as cold or even rude because we don’t commonly greet each other in our culture,” adding, “Use the social protocol every day, everywhere. Es muy importante. And don’t forget to smile!”

(stock photo)

Life, I know, having learned it the hard way, is definitely not all smiles. Nevertheless, I’ve also learned, happily, there’s a lot to be said for smiles – genuine smiles, that is, that express true happiness, and not simply masks for nervousness, sorrow, or pain. This is a universal truth, regardless of where we live. I’ll let the science weigh in:

“When you smile, your brain releases tiny molecules called neuropeptides to help fight off stress. Then other neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins come into play too. The endorphins act as a mild pain reliever, whereas the serotonin is an antidepressant. One study even suggests that smiling can help us recover faster from stress and reduce our heart rate.” (From “The Real Health Benefits of Smiling” — .)

But getting back to my original idea about facelifts: Often, as I walk along the sidewalks here in SMA, I tell my face: Up, Face, up! Get up! Lift yourself up!

I can even hear my mother’s voice in my head forever admonishing me, her eldest and most serious daughter, “Put a smile on your face, Bonnie! Nobody wants to see your long face! You look so much prettier when you smile.”

27 thoughts on “Instant Facelift”

  1. Hi Bonnie, this is so true! Many cultures are not as friendly and open as Mexicans but I’ve found a smile changes everything everywhere. I wonder whether others have had my experience — when I’m wearing a mask, I’m more conscious of smiling with my eyes and that’s even MORE endorphin-inducing! Abrazos Mija. xoxox

    1. Yes, querida Kim! I find that (smiling with eyes while wearing a mask) to be SO true too. Even the little kids see such smiles and smile back. Did you see my amiga Teresa’s quote in Spanish? — “Toda la gente sonrie en un mismo idioma.”

  2. Your blog posts make me smile Bonnie. With mask wearing I’ve tried to make my eyes smile, too, but not much luck. For someone whose face frowns in its resting state, I have to remember to smile. It’s easier in SMA since it’s polite to smile at everyone along with the greetings.

  3. Dear Bon,
    Americans don’t smile enough. As an ex-New Yorker I can attest to the way they maintain their street-face, yet underneath they can be quite sociable and warm.
    Boston is far worse. People are even less friendly here, and I think it goes deeper into who they are.
    I’m grateful to work at a school that fosters a welcoming and accepting atmosphere. I work in a place that is quite friendly, and it makes day-to-day life more fulfilling, both personally and professionally.

    1. Yes, Paul dear, it’s not until we live for a while in a more relaxed culture (country) that we realize how stressful life in the U.S. is and how that affects our daily human interactions (no time for niceties or even passing smiles). I’m glad your work life at the school where you’ve been teaching has been warm and friendly. What will do you when you retire from it? 🙂

  4. There’s actually a huge social media movement, a backlash from young women in the US, who perceive the “you look prettier when you smile”, as mysogynistic. Their premise is that men feel better when women smile at them. And that the reciprocal courtesy is not to be expected unless a man wants something from you.

    City folks often are taught that such engagement is unsafe, and indicates openness to stranger danger. That, plus the fact that many from the US are indeed sad, depressed or scared, often for good reasons, makes this post especially important. One of the things I so love about San Miguel is the open hearted engagement of locals. I too tell my serious self to lift my face, smile and engage, and hope that my new Mexican friends don’t give up on us gringos. We need them to teach us a better way of life.

    1. Yes, yes, yes, dear Anna, “we need them to teach us a better way of life.” And I, too, hope that they “don’t give up on us gringos.” In the Peace Corps we were trained to behave like appreciative guests in our host countries. We gringos living happily and peacefully in Mexico would be wise to think of ourselves as fortunate guests as well.

    2. Excellent point about the mysogynistic interpretation here. Even terms of endearment are frowned upon and many men who already suffer from being socially awkward stand the risk of being accused or worse, cancelled. I’ve recently moved to a neighborhood near the metropolis I’ve always called home and am so moved by how many people here look at passerbys and Smile!! It has made me smile more and I’m happier for it. A recent episode of CBS Sunday Morning claimed people with Latin roots are considered the happiest people on earth! Let’s learn from that!

  5. Almost every day, Sr. Roberto and I walk past a hotel where the valets are congregated out front. We always call out an enthusiastic “Buenos Dias” and they do the same with one hand over their hearts and a slight head bow. It’s hard to describe the joy that brings.

  6. Just now reading this. I like the old saying ‘ smile in the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.’ And I had to laugh at the words ‘ long face’ – I think my mom used those same words!

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