FAQ: Why Are You Always Smiling?

Why are you always smiling?

Someone recently suggested I write a post answering the question I get asked most. Determining which question was the easy part. Throughout my nearly 40 years on this planet, there’s one question I get asked more than any other: “Why are you always smiling?”

So many people have asked me over the years, it’s starting to feel like I have some kind of weird condition. Like the time my young (and very honest) daughter asked a grocery store cashier, “What’s that thing growing on your face?”

The reality is, I don’t have much more control over my smile than that cashier had over her … um … boil, I guess?

I can’t help smiling. It just happens. Like, all the time.

I wish I had some really amazing answer to give when people ask why I’m always smiling. I wish I had the secret to everlasting joy. For what it’s worth, just because so many people have asked, here’s why I’m always smiling:

1. The main reason is that, like everyone else, I smile when I’m happy. And talking to people makes me happy. So, if I’m talking to you (a person that I like) that’s why I’m smiling.

2. Part of the reason is also that I’m a lifelong fan of positivity. I try (not always successfully) to be bright and positive because it seems like a better way of existing in this world than the alternative.

3. On that note, another part of the reason is that I think it’s important to be responsible for the energy I bring into the world. In general, I think negative feelings are like trash. We all have it, but it’s really not anyone else’s problem and it’s bad manners to throw it at people. Plus, if you have too much of it or it’s particularly problematic, there are really wonderful experts you can pay to help haul it away (aka therapists, just to be clear). So, I try (failing frequently, obviously) not to put negativity into the world and strive to put positivity out instead (hence all the smiling, I suppose).

(Just to be crystal clear, I’m not saying that if someone’s struggling, they should just slap a smile on and bear it. I think asking for and receiving help is the smartest thing a person can do. I just don’t think I should take it out on the barista because my toilet broke.)

4. Another reason I smile all the time is that after all these years of smiling, my face is just kind of trained that way. It’s muscle memory. Have you heard of RBF (resting bitch face)? Apparently, I have resting smile face. It’s like posture, I guess – however you practice is how it gets set. So, sometimes, the reason I’m smiling is just because my face is shaped that way (but don’t overthink it – if I’m smiling at you, it’s probably because of reason #1, not just because it’s automatic).

5. Here’s a reason I’m not too sure about – When I was younger, I connected smiling to beauty. I don’t really remember why. I probably read or heard something somewhere. I figured I couldn’t control how pretty I was but I could smile, which is better than any makeup on the market.

(Just to clarify, I’m not saying people should smile so they look good. I’m not some creepy dude telling the receptionist to “smile sweetheart – you’ll look prettier.” That’s weird. And wrong. Heck, maybe some dirtball said that to me along the way and I internalized it. Either way, it’s just part of the mix now.)

6. Then there’s genetics. My family are largely smilers and social kinds of folk. So that’s probably part of it too.

7. Also, I was raised in the LDS (Mormon) Church, with heavy pioneer roots. Somewhere along the way, that “put your shoulder to the wheel and push along” mindset seeped in. Like, your ancestors hiked 1,200 miles across the desert, lost a toe and three children along the way, and still slapped on a smile and did their best, so … so should you … even if the wi-fi’s bad.

Now, I’m not a fan of faking emotions, but I also think a little trained positivity and grit can be good, as long as you don’t lose touch with what’s happening internally.  

(Just to be clear, I also realize that losing touch with what’s happening internally is actually a really big problem both within and outside of my birth faith/culture, which causes lots of real damage to really wonderful humans. If you find yourself in that camp, by all means, ditch the smile and let the hellfire rain down. Sometimes, it’s needed.)

8. Lastly, I spent a long time working in customer service, which reinforced that smile habit. When I worked for the airlines, we called it “Flight Attendant Face” – even if you’re out of food, the plane is bouncing around like a paddleball, and everyone is barfing, you keep a smile on that face. It might be the only thing holding it all together.

Later on, after I had moved into journalism, smiling helped me establish quick rapport with the people I interviewed. I also found it to be a wonderful tool while traveling abroad. When you’re navigating language barriers, incomprehensible laws, confusing terrain and so much more, a smile sends a positive signal to those around you, which helps them relate and become much more willing to help.

So there’s the eight-part answer to why I’m always smiling (I’m going to make it into a brochure and start handing it out to people who ask). And, really, whatever the reason, I still think it’s better than the alternative.

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