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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

13 Secrets Your Smile Can Reveal About You

Is that a hurtful smirk or genuine grin? We've asked communication experts on how smiles can be interpreted and what you can do to keep your smile taken at its true value.

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You’re lying

A smile can have a hidden meaning for a crafty person. “There is a smile called the ‘Duping’ smile or ‘Dupper’s Delight’ which is typically a little smile that comes across the face when a liar or deal-maker or cheating-winner thinks they have duped someone,” explains Patti Wood, MA, a body language expert based in Atlanta. Another tool to decipher a gloating smile is that the smile may be a mismatch for the other person or people you are with so they feel left out and less than, she says.

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You’re full of joy

Wood describes a ‘laughing smile’ as when the mouth is open upper and lower teeth showing. This comfortable and inviting face exudes joy and sincerity. “The head is usually thrown back,” adds Wood. Here are some reasons that smiling improves your health.

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You want to put people at ease

Everyone wants to be a smooth socializer—which is why you may want to improve your social interaction skills. Smiling helps too: There is a lot of evidence of body language mirroring, according to an article in Psychology Today. “We automatically copy the facial expressions of others. We reciprocate and in social groups it can be contagious. People respond to, and evaluate, those who smile differently and more positively than those who do not.”

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You’re hiding how you really feel

Smiles are often used to cover up another emotion. “For example, someone might start to frown then cover this with a smile,” says Jonathan Gratch, who is based at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies in Playa Vista, California, where he is the director for virtual human research “The nature of a smile also communicates subtle information about its authenticity.” Another telltale sign is if a smile that starts and ends too quickly is seen as not genuine, he says.

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You’re nervous

“Smile controls” are a set of facial muscles that can be used to regulate the smile expression, says Gratch. “These include things like pressing your lips together or activating the muscles that pull down on the corners of the mouth. These muscles are under voluntary control,” he affirms.

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You’re under pressure

Sometimes under pressure, we react in ways that are incongruent with the situation at hand. “A common example of this is laughing when you receive bad news, freezing when you are in danger, or making jokes when you are uncomfortable,” says Shadeen Francis, a family and marriage therapist in Philadelphia. “These incongruous responses are just a few of the brain’s many ways of managing overwhelming emotional circumstances. An unexplainable smile may also be a signal of distress, especially when others are around.” Some studies, Francis says, have demonstrated that when under intense social distress, smiling was more common than in less alarming or in nonsocial situations.

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You feel superior

Ironically, a smile can express contempt, says an article in Women’s Health. “The result is a conscious disconnect between outward expression and inner feelings. Other times, the disconnect may be unconscious, the result of pushing aside negative feelings. A person may have heard as a child that enraged feelings should never be expressed, so even the slightest inkling of anger is covered with a smile,” cites the article.

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You’re in love (or lust)

Can a smile reflect sexual passion or true love? According to the same Women’s Health piece, “Social psychologists believe that deep love and passionate sexual attraction elicit entirely different types of smiles.” The article also states that “the more two people are in love, the more they show genuine smiles in each other’s company, and on the flip side, people who report high levels of sexual desire—but not a whole lot of love—show fewer genuine smiles and a greater number of other lip actions. In short, genuine smiles communicate the desire to be close; lip movements convey passion.”

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You’re letting off stress

Smiling reduces stress and can improve your outlook. Stress levels were especially low in those with genuine smiles. Even those who forced a smile during an unpleasant task seemed to have lower stress levels, according to a Web MD article.

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You’re fertile

Research out of the University of Western Perth in Australia suggests that gum disease can interfere with a woman’s chances to become pregnant, according to Medical News Today. Even more reason to floss and catch up on your regular cleanings—time to call your dentist.

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You want to feel happy

Smiling offers some surprising health benefits, but did you know it can be a blues buster? Yes, we smile when things are going well, but it turns out you can use a smile cheer yourself up, according to a study published in the journal Psychological Science. Researchers recorded volunteers moods as they tricked them into smiling, and the bigger the smile, the better the volunteers felt.

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Your marriage is likely to last

This is a crazy one: Researchers asked volunteers to rate the intensity of people’s smiles in photos on a scale of one to ten. Afterwards, they checked the likelihood that the people were in a solid marriage. Sure enough, the people with the strongest smiles were the least likely to be divorced, reports LiveScience.

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You’re practicing social graces

Smiling should be an essential part of all human encounters when face-to-face, says the Web MD post. But we even do it over the phone. Here are more tips on how to improve your social interaction skills.

Erica Lamberg
Erica Lamberg is an experienced travel and business writer based in suburban Philadelphia. Specializing in family travel, cruise experiences, and tips for enriching and affordable vacations. Beyond travel, Erica writes about personal finance, health and parenting topics. Her writing credits include Reader’s Digest, USA Today, Parents Magazine, Oprah Magazine and U.S. News & World Report. Her favorite city is Paris and she dreams about visiting Greece and Israel. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park and is married with two children.