A smile is defined as an upward curvature of the lips. That, at least, is a “technical” smile. Actually, it’s more like the “shell” of a smile—the form without the content.

A true smile, on the other hand, involves the eyes, the heart and the soul: Every part of the smiler is pleased. Everyone except babies can tell the difference between an authentic and an inauthentic smile. It seemsReceiving a smile is like receiving a valuable gift that newborn babies are far less discriminating, willing to accept any kind of smile. (Then again, they also let anyone hold them.)

Anyway, the rest of us can tell when a smile is sincere, and we have an instinctively positive response upon seeing it. Someone else’s smile quickly generates a flow of positive chemistry throughout all the cells of our body. As our sages teach us1, bestowing a smile produces beneficial physical, mental and spiritual effects, and as such, is considered a form of charity that can be more powerful than money.

Receiving a smile is like receiving a valuable gift, but giving a smile is the same—the “smiler” benefits as much as the “smilee!” A smile sends a message to one’s brain that all is well; this releases that same cascade of positive chemistry throughout the body.

What other gift is there that one gives and receives simultaneously? Actually, this isn’t a rhetorical question, so let me ask it again: What other gift is there that one gives and receives simultaneously? It is the gift of love. In fact, one who loves may benefit even more than the one who is loved!

Flash It Often

Smiling and loving are related; they are both activities of harmony and unity. Both bring people together, melting away differences and conflict. A smile can convey love, as well as many shades of positive affect: approval, pleasure, pride, joy, acceptance, welcome, contentment, gratitude and other wonderful emotions. A proper smile is free of all negativity.

Smiles can, and should, be shared with strangers and acquaintances as well as with loved ones. As we learn from Shammai in the Ethics of the Fathers2, it is important to greet everyone with a pleasant facial expression (a smiling countenance). Smiles are contagious, eliciting similar responses in those who are smiled at, as well as in those who simply see a smile in another. Normally, we understand that our smile is for the benefit of others, smoothing the way for positive social relationships. What we fail to realize is that our smile is equally for our benefit—putting us in the frame of mind to get along well with the people in our lives and helping all of our internal organs function optimally.

Our smile softens our features and our muscles. It’s hard to smile and remain physically tense at the same time. Go ahead and try it. This is why our smile facilitates the healthy functioning of our bodily systems: When we smile, all systems relax and do what they’re supposed to do.

It’s also hard to smile and remain emotionally tense. When we smile, our attitude softens.

“Oh, look at the kids making a gigantic mess and refusing to listen. Cute, isn’t it?” When we smile, we are transported in time to the place where this frustrating moment actually will be cute in retrospect. When the children are grown and the room remains clean, a parent will think back to the old chaotic, messy days—and yes, smile. Now this could be the smile of “Finally! I have a clean family room!” but it is equally likely to be the smile of “Ahhhh . . . they were so cute way back then.” Either way, smiling at the current mess can bring about the same pleasant feelings: “One day, this room will be beautiful and tidy!” or “Look at those guys; aren’t they the cutest?”

A smile always takes us to a good place, one way or another.

Our smile increases our patience, tolerance and forgiveness—emotions that allow for the flourishing of love. Our smileHow much smiling would show up on your movie? decreases our anger and irritability, boosts our confidence and reduces our anxiety. Our smile helps us become more lovable and loving people, better in every way. And because the smile is so powerful and impactful, we should be flashing it as often as possible.

In Lieu of Words

In short, we should smile when we wake up our kids. It’s much harder to yell at them that way. We should smile when we ask them to do something; we’ll elicit far more cooperation. We should smile when our spouse walks into the kitchen; no words are necessary to convey our simple love.

We should smile when we sign homework, sit down to dinner, do the bedtime routine. Imagine that there is a camera recording your every move in your home. How much smiling would show up on your movie? How many scowls, frowns, knitted brows and tense facial expressions would be there?

While there is a time for every feeling, see if you can increase the time for smiles—and see what happens as a result. I have a feeling that it’s just going to make you . . . smile!