Living with Enthusiasm 
by Mary Marcdante

Day 1

The 21-Day Smile Diet

How often do you find yourself smiling during the day?

a.      What’s to smile for? The world’s such a mess. Besides, I heard it takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown. I hate to exercise so the more muscles I can use without much effort, the better.

b.      Once. At exactly five o’clock p.m. every Monday through Friday and twice on the second and fourth Fridays… when I get my paycheck.

c.       I’ve never thought about it. Maybe 10-20 times a day. But when I smile, I hardly ever show my teeth because they’re not perfect and I can’t afford to get them fixed.

d.      My life is a smile! I hunt for smiles. Everywhere I look, there’s something to smile about no matter what’s going on in my life.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~  

Please humor me if you would, for 16 seconds. This will be fun, I promise.

     Put a smile on your face. Now make it bigger. Now smile like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland – ear to ear. Keep holding your smile and now breathe in deeply through your nose. Keep holding the smile and now let out your breath. Repeat twice more (your brain learns with repetition of threes).

     Great job! Now look around and see if people are watching you. If they are, make a big smile again, hold it, raise your eyebrows, and then wave to them. If they engage you, feel free to share what you’re doing with them and have a good laugh together. When you’re finished, I invite you back to keep reading. If they don’t respond or weren’t watching, just keep reading and enjoying the burst of feel-good chemicals – endorphins – your brain just sent to your body.   

     Consider the above request and breathing exercise in your introduction to Enthusiasm 101. Mind, body, and breath are the essence of enthusiasm. If you are already an enthusiastic or active person, just like an Olympic athlete, think of the previous exercise as a warm-up for going for the “gold-medal” life.

     In this 21-Day Smile Diet, we’ll explore different ways you can jumpstart your enthusiasm day-by-day, keep yourself (and others) smiling, and put your system in what research scientist Mihali Csikszentmihalyi calls a “state of flow.”

     On Day 1, we’re focusing on one of the most readily available and powerful enthusiasm generators in existence – your smile.

Say Cheese

A smile is the most universally recognized and understood gesture every culture understands and 99.9 percent of the population enjoys giving and receiving. We can identify a smile more easily than any other expression, even from a distance of up to 300 feet. We smile when we when we feel good, when we see someone we love, when we reach a long-awaited goal, when we’re embarrassed, and when we need to mask anger we can’t appropriately express at the moment. We even smile on cue when anyone with a camera calls out, “Say cheese.” 

Different Types of Smiles

University of California San Francisco researcher Paul Ekman and his colleagues identified 19 different types of smiles. Categorized into two basic categories, polite “social” smiles engage only mouth muscles, and genuine, happy “felt” smiles activate muscles on both sides of the mouth and around the eyes. Felt smiles light up the left frontal cortex of the brain where pleasure is registered.
       University of California at Berkeley psychologists Dacher Keltner and Lee Ann Harker identified six basic types of smiles to express feelings. The last three turn on the enthusiasm switch. They are:

  POLITE Smile: We turn up both corners of our lips, but there's no engagement with our eyes. We give this type of smile to strangers. The polite smile is often used by politicians or others with a personal agenda.

ASYMMETRICAL Smile: We raise one side of our lips higher than the other. This is also referred to as a fake smile.

 EMBARRASSED Smile: We bend our heads forward a little, look away or down, and press our lips together when we smile. It’s used when we have made a mistake, overstepped our limits, or been caught doing something against the norm.

GENUINE Smile: Our lips raise up and part, our teeth may even show. Our eyes light up and crow’s feet (tiny wrinkles that do have a grander purpose!) appear on our skin around the edges of our eyes. A muscle under our eyes also lifts up. (For some people, it’s the best and only exercise they get all day!) It’s also known as the “Duchenne Smile,” named after an 18th century French neurologist who first reported on smiles of the will and smiles of the heart.

LOVING Smile: We tilt our heads toward others while we’re doing the GENUINE smile.

SYNCHRONIZED Smile: We do the GENUINE, LOVING smile and add a forward-leaning body movement toward the recipient, showing that we’re on the same wavelength.

Physiologically and emotionally, a smile tells our brains that we are safe, that we fit in (or want to fit in), and that we can relax. When we smile at others, it sends a message of trust and good will. Consequently, we’re seen as open and approachable.

How Often Do People Smile?

Number of smiles per day at home – all adults:

  • Five to 20 times: 46 percent

  • More than 20 times: 36 percent

  • Less than five times: 14 percent

Number of smiles-per-day at work - all adults:

  •  Five to 20 times: 30 percent

  • More than 20 times: 28 percent

  • Less than five times: 13 percent

SOURCE: Opinion Research Corp. International, 1997

Chances are you’ve rarely given thought to the impact of your smile on your energy level, health, success, or relationships. You may have been aware of your “grin factor” if you were a shy, serious child prodded by your parents to smile for the neighbors. Or, as a teen, if you had a crush on someone and practiced your smile in the mirror while having an imaginary conversation. Or, more seriously, if you are self-conscious about your teeth or you feel depressed and just can’t seem to find your smile at all.

Smiles are a sign of good health and happiness. Keltner’s research at the University of California-Berkeley also showed that practicing the smiles of enthusiasm – the genuine smile, the loving smile, and the synchronized smile – on a regular basis will positively impact how you feel and perform in life. Keltner reviewed the lives of 100 women over a 30-year period after graduation from Mills College. He found that women who had the most intense smiles in their high school photos were married sooner, stayed married longer, and were happier in their lives than those who smiled with less intensity.

By their 50s, the women with the bigger smiles were 20 percent more likely to be happily married, 20 percent less likely to have serious tension in their lives, and 27 percent more likely to have a strong sense of well being.  


We don’t usually think about the value of our smiles until they’re taken away.

~Mary Marcdante


The Power of Your Smile

Imagine that you’re like a woman I met named Linda: homeless, without a job, on welfare with two young children. You’ve been living in a domestic violence shelter for three weeks, hiding from an angry, abusive spouse who knocked out four of your front teeth. Your self-esteem is at an all-time low and the last thing you want to do is put a smile on your face. Yet your smile is the very thing you most need from others—and from yourself—to help you start putting your life back together again.

     Now imagine a compassionate volunteer who smiles at you without judgment and offers you an enthusiastic hug every morning. Soon, you’re beginning to feel a smile creep back on your face and thinking that you maybe you can make it. Never underestimate the power of your smile and energy to change another person’s life. Thanks to programs like Francie Pepper’s Safe House in Cincinnati and the Speaking of Women’s Health Dental Fund, women like Linda can apply for grants to get the resources they need for rebuilding their smiles and their lives. (Contact to learn about similar programs in your community.)

     Whether our lives have been torn apart like Linda’s or we’re fortunate enough to say, “There but for the grace of God go I,” how do we keep healthy and enthusiastic smiles on our faces on a daily basis?

     I spent two and a half years in college studying dental hygiene. At my first class clinic, I fainted. When I came to, I immediately realized I was happier carving wax teeth than cleaning real teeth. So I withdrew from the dental program and enrolled in art school. But the lessons I learned about the importance of oral health stay with me to this day:

  •  Love your dental hygienist

  • Visit your dentist once, preferably twice a year

  • Don’t smoke (reach for floss instead!)

  • Brush and floss twice a day

And two new suggestions that make all the difference in the size of your smile:

  • Whiten your teeth. (Crest has these very cool white strips you can get at the grocery store or drug store.)

  • ·Use a power brush because you’ll brush better and longer. (I love my Crest “Little Mermaid” spin brush and give them as birthday gifts to friends!)

Create Your Own Personal Smile Ritual

When comedienne Carol Burnett sang her closing song to the audience on her weekly television show, she ended it with a smile and a tug on her left ear lobe. This ritual signaled to her grandmother Nanny that all was right with the world.

     I have a smiling ritual I do when I’m shopping. Whether it’s the grocery store, department store, restaurant, dry cleaner, office supply store, or gas station, I enjoy getting checked out (no, not that kind of “checked out,” although the older I get, the more appealing that sounds). When it’s my turn, I send out a big smile and attempt to make eye contact with the checkout person. Sometimes we become fast friends, discussing the latest gossip on the cover of the National Enquirer or The Globe. Other times, it takes several seconds for me to connect with them because they’re so focused on their tasks.

     There’s a deeper reason we’re not connecting. When I started talking with front-line people, I learned that many of them feel undervalued and unappreciated. They work long hours for low wages. They smile a lot, say hello, and in return they often get complaints or disinterest from customers. Having worked during my high school and college days as a cashier at Shore-Vu Grocery Store, a waitress at the Pig’n Whistle, and a babysitter for three siblings and 24 neighbor children, I can identify with them. I’m guessing you can, too.

     It’s easy to be enthusiastic and smiling when people are in a good mood or feel kind and helpful. You and I both know it’s another story when someone’s cranky or rude.

          Every time you smile at someone, it is an
          action of love, a gift to that person, a
          beautiful thing.
                                         ~Mother Teresa

I frequent a gas station that employs a dour-looking older service attendant. It appears that life has not been kind to him. I first noticed him one day when the pumps were broken and customers had to go into the office to pay for gas. When I handed this curmudgeon my credit card, I smiled as I normally did. He didn’t smile back. Irritated, I thought, “Who does he think he is? I’m paying him. He ought to be friendlier, considering the prices we pay here.” I left feeling annoyed.

     The following week I went back, hoping for a different attendant. No such luck. There he was, as usual, looking distant and grumpy. I pumped my gas and used the credit card machine at the gas pump to pay my bill. My evil twin was on my left shoulder, feeding me sarcastic one-liners just in case he looked my way. But Mother Teresa was sitting on the right shoulder and she won. As I was leaving, I forced a penitent smile and waved to him. Lucky me: I caught his attention and received a “Make my day” stare. My self-esteem was beginning to get involved. This man must be on downers! I haven’t done anything to him, I thought. I smiled even bigger – like a chimpanzee, almost glaring. Still no facial movement from him. Not even a muscle twitch. What is wrong with this guy?!

     Ready to find another gas station but sensing Mother T smiling at me from above, I decided to give it one more try. I was on a mission. I vowed to myself that, for the benefit of humanity, I would somehow find a way to make him smile before I leave the station the next time.

If you would like to spoil the day for a grouch, give him a smile.

D-Day arrived a week later. I pumped my gas. As I walked toward the glass-plated window and wide open door, I focused a laser-beam “I know there’s something good in you somewhere down there” smile on him. No deal. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I was on the warpath, I mean, peace path. I pulled out the big guns and began a new technique of heart breathing and smiling (More about this on Day 5). Still nothing. “This guy is a tough cookie,” I thought.

     Plan B. As he put his hand out for my credit card, I was prepared. I imagined being Julia Roberts. With a full-on smile, I started to move the card toward his hand and just as his fingers went to grab it, I pulled the card back. I said, “I’ll bet you have a great smile. I’ll give you my card if you give me a smile.” I fully expected him to crack a smile, maybe even chuckle a bit, so I was unprepared for what he said in the most downtrodden, flat voice and broken English: “Ma’am, if I smile at you, there’s a real good chance you’re going to misinterpret my smile and I could end up with a lawsuit for appearing to solicit your services. That’s why I don’t smile. I am not in my own country and life is hard here. I want to keep my job.”

     My heart ached for him, for me, for the world, for all the times we hesitate to offer our humanity out of resentment, anger, fear of litigation, violence, rape, or even simple miscommunication. “I understand,” I said, feeling tears well up. Embarrassed, I fumbled for a moment and then responded. “Thank you for being so honest. I’m sorry it’s so hard for you. I appreciate all that you do.” I smiled. And of all things, he smiled back.

     Now, every time I go into the gas station and finish pumping my gas, as I drive past the open door, I teasingly take my index finger, push up the left corner of my lips, and the right corner follows. From behind the glass-plated window, a smile beams back. Compassion and understanding are high-octane fuels that keep the engine of enthusiasm running at an optimal level and deliver a smile 99% of the time.

               There are hundreds of languages in the
               world, but a smile speaks them all.

Turn Your Smile into a Joy Machine

An energy source within you has the potential to turn your smile into a joy machine. Someone needs your smile today. When you’re out in the world in the next 24 hours, look for someone whose services you use that could benefit from an ear tug, a kind word, an extra second of eye contact, understanding, or your biggest smile.

               Nobody needs a smile so much as the one who 
               has none to give. So get used to smiling   
               heart-warming smiles, and you will spread
               sunshine in a sometimes-dreary world.

                                        ~LAWRENCE G. LOVASIK, 
                                   The Hidden Power of Kindness


Give yourself a big smile in every mirror or window reflection you see yourself in. If you’re a really extroverted person, wave back. People will wonder what you’re up to, and most will smile and shake their heads. You might just make their day.


  • Keep a small spiral notebook with you for a day, or get a counter and click the number of smiles you make in a day. Aim for 50 genuine smiles.

  •  See how long you can hold a smile and eye contact with another person before you start laughing or have to look away. Work up to one minute.

  • Notice other people’s smiles, even if they’re off in the distance, and smile along with them to get in on the good feelings. Practice random acts of smiling.

  • Study your smile in the mirror. Spend a few minutes trying different smiles and then give yourself a genuine smile and hold it for 16 seconds.

  • Get involved in National Smile Week in August to promote dental health or participate in World Smile Day on October 4, which was started by Harvey Ball, who created the “Smiley Face.” (A simple drawing of a smiling face on a yellow background.) Follow his motto: “Do something kind. Make one person smile.”


  • How many times did you smile yesterday?

  • Who and what make you smile? List at least 10 people and things.

  • What was going on during a recent time when your smile made a big difference to someone else?

  • When has someone’s smile healed a hurt or dramatically affected your life? Who was that person?

  • Who are three service people you frequently see who could use an extra smile and a kind word from you?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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Copyright 2003 Mary Marcdante