You know this one. If a tree falls in a forest – and there is no one there to hear it – does it still make a sound? It’s meant to be a conundrum – a question that cannot be answered. But of course, the answer is no. It does not make a sound. Soundwaves are energy and they require receivers – ears – to translate that energy into recognizable noise.
Similarly, there are radio waves broadcast through the air all around us, but until somebody actually turns on a radio – there is nothing to be heard.
If something isn’t seen or heard – does it matter or even exist? If you visit a historic monument, but you don’t take a selfie in front of it – where you ever really there?
That brings us to this. If you’re wearing a mask that covers the lower half of your face, does it matter if you smile when nobody can see it?
It seems as though many of us smile a good deal less lately. With constant warnings about germs, viruses, and coming into contact with people outside of our bubble, social interactions have become furtive and strained.
I smiled and waved at a stranger as I stepped off the sidewalk to allow her to pass at a safe distance. I got a fearful look and a hurried shuffle away in response. It seems as though even safe distance interactions with other people are becoming increasingly taboo.
I’ve been told that I don’t naturally have the sunniest of dispositions. I am an introvert and tend to live inside my own thoughts much of the time. COVID-19 actually has me trying harder to be sociable than I normally would be. No, I’m not throwing parties and flouting health regulations. I just find it depressing to see people shuffling along exchanging fearful glances above their masks.
Just because a mask hides your smile – it doesn’t prevent you from smiling underneath it. And here is why you really should.
You can hear a smile. They teach you this in customer service training. Even when you are dealing with a client by phone, you should smile. Smiling changes the tone and warmth of your voice. So you will come across as friendlier and more positive if you are smiling – even if the smile is hidden by a mask.
Your eyes will smile too. Putting on a happy expression changes the rest of your nonverbal communications as well. The rest of your facial expression and body language will naturally come across friendlier when are smiling.
You will feel happier. Facial expressions have an influence on your emotional states. Scientific studies have shown that you can be made happier by smiling, sadder by frowning, and angrier by scowling. We naturally think that our expressions follow from – and communicate – how we are feeling. But apparently, it works both ways. How we are feeling can be influenced by our expressions. Importantly, even faking a smile can boost your mood.
You will live longer. Yes, we’re all extra concerned about our health these days – hence wearing the masks in the first place. Smiling behind that mask can be beneficial for your health. The Department of Clinical Immunology at Loma Linda University School of Medicine found that, while you are smiling, your stress levels go down and your body relaxes, allowing your immune system to react more quickly and effectively against invaders.
The coronavirus has made friendly interactions feel strained and uncomfortable lately. Our exchanges with strangers on the street or at the shop will likely be reduced to nod and a wave from a distance for the foreseeable future. That smile and wave will come across as friendlier and more cheerful when accompanied with a smile.
So, yes, it matters. If you smile behind your mask – and nobody sees it – the impact can still be profound.