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!”
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” — www.sclhealth.org .)
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.”