Your smile is a symbol that welcomes a new friend, makes people feel comfortable around you, and reflects your personality and feelings. It is your personal positive communication tool. Nothing is more attractive to others than your smile. But of course, nothing conveys rejection quite as much as fake smiles or frowns.

When you get a really good, genuine smile from someone, it can totally change your day for the better. And I suppose it’s no surprise that what your smile reveals about you has a lot to do with how you’re feeling at any given time. And other people’s smiles similarly indicate how they might be feeling, too.

So, what can we understand from the different smile styles we receive, and give, on a daily basis?

Just like understanding behaviour, smiles are the same as people – different, predictably different.

And you will be surprised to find out, of the 15 Smiles of Human Interactions, only six are for happiness! 🙂 🙁


1. Duchenne Smile

Well, first of all, what is generally recognised as a person’s genuine smile, is something called your “Duchenne Smile”. The Duchenne Smile is an expression that signals true enjoyment. It occurs when the zygomaticus major muscle lifts the corners of your mouth. And at the same time, the orbicularis oculi muscles lift your cheeks and crinkle your eyes at the corners.

2 images of julia roberts, one with a Duchenne Smile and one with a non-Duchenne Smile

Was discovered by anatomist and Frenchman Duchenne de Boulogne in 1862. Fundamentally, the core difference between this “real” happy smile and a “fake” happy smile is in the orbicularis oculi. That is the muscles that wrap around our eyes. Every smile action involves the contraction of zygomatic major muscles. They lift the corners of the mouth. A Duchenne Smile however, is represented by the additional contraction of the orbicularis oculi. That is, the crumpling of the skin around the eyes. Akin to crows feet.

Now there is an interesting study that examined the Duchenne Smile. It looked at photos of professional baseball players from the 1950s. Surprisingly, it found that Duchenne smilers had a 70% chance of living until the age of 80. That is compared to 50% for non-smilers. Notably, the researchers connected it to the health benefits associated with happiness. Additionally, it was also found that only Duchenne smile (and no other smile) is followed with activity in the left frontal cortex of the brain. A region associated with experiencing enjoyment.


2. Reward Smile

Many smiles come from a positive emotion. This includes satisfaction, approval, or even happiness amid sorrow. Researchers describe them as “reward smiles”. This is because we use them to inspire ourselves or other people.

reward smile for positive communication lady with beaming ear to ear smile on blue background

Reward smiles involve many emotions at once. During this, the muscles of the mouth and cheeks become active and the eyes glow. It enhances positive and good feelings. And it also improves our behaviour. For example, when a baby unexpectedly smiles at their mother. It triggers the dopamine (feel-good chemical) reward centres in the mother’s brain. The mother is thus rewarded for her child’s happiness.


3. Affiliative Smile

We use smiles to reassure others or to be polite. Also we smile at others to communicate trustworthiness, belonging, and good intentions. Smiles like these have been characterised as “affiliation” smiles. That is because they function as social connectors. A gentle smile is often perceived as a sign of compassion.

affiliative smile for positive communication lady with beaming ear to ear smile on green background

These smiles involve the upward pull of the lips, and according to researchers, often trigger dimpling in the cheeks. Additionally, affiliative smiles can also include a lip pressor. That is where the lips remain closed during the smile. Keeping the teeth hidden might be a subtle reversal of the primitive tooth-baring aggression signal.


click here red button to contact healthy business builder sales and customer service leadership training 1300 833 574

To Book Your Team’s Positive Communication Workshop


4. The Pan Am Smile

Sometimes people in customer service have to put on smiles to hide how upset their customers are making them. Defunct airline Pan Am trained their flight attendants to do this to the point where the smile was the only thing left of the company.

pan am air hostess forced smile and modern day lady with similar smile smile working in customer service for positive communication

The Pan Am smile does not use the eyes. Additionally, it relies on our motor cortex, while the Duchenne smile uses the limbic system. TIP: If you work in customer service and want to convince your customers you’re happy to see them, use your eyes!


5. The Closed-Lip Smile

This can show someone is hiding something or apprehensive about a situation. It can be natural and uses eyes the way the Duchenne smile does but does not always convey joy. Someone might be happy about something they don’t want to talk about. Or they are trying to hide being uncomfortable. It is preferred smile of politicians.

The seven faces of Donald Trump – a psychologist's view | Donald Trump | The Guardian

That is because it indicates the person knows something of importance to you but has no plans of sharing their secret. This smile is pretty easy to identify. That is because it is similar to the feeling it portrays. You can see the smile, but the closed lips will never reveal the teeth/truth.


6. The Lopsided Smile

Some people have naturally lopsided smiles. In such cases it doesn’t hold much meaning. Rather it is more like that person’s version of a Duchenne smile. Other times however, it conveys mixed emotion or a sense of wariness. A lopsided smile may be intentional.

Leo|Crooked Smile | Young leonardo dicaprio, Leonardo dicapro, Leo dicaprio

That is like when someone makes a wry joke or smirks, they may only lift one side of the mouth to show mirth or wryness. There are also many celebrities who have a lopsided smile naturally. Symbolically, they are often known for this kind of smile, as it makes for a unique appearance.


7. The Shy Smile

Nervous embarrassment can cause this, but people can also purposefully do it to be alluring or secretive. The angle makes you look younger as well.

How a great smile can help you in life | Wilkinson Orthodontics

Charles Darwin noted some of its effects while researching animals. Another tell-tale sign is moving the head downwards and slightly tilted. These smiles typically don’t last very long.


8. The Faked Forced Smile

This is when someone tries to hide how uncomfortable they are and fails miserably. Whether it’s during a date or a job interview, they are easy to spot. Consequently, it does  and will not make the observer feel great about the situation.

7 PEOPLE PRETENDING TO SMILE ideas | pretend, people, fake smile

A forced smile is one you would use in an uncomfortable situation. That is, in a moment where you are trying to show positive intent. However, a forced smile can also be used for diffusing situations. That is because it can be over-exaggerated and last longer than a natural smile as to be noticed.


click here red button to contact healthy business builder sales and customer service leadership training 1300 833 574

To Book Your Team’s Positive Communication Workshop


9. Dampened or Qualifier Smile

A dampened smile would be used when you are trying to conceal the intensity of positive emotion. Someone giving a dampened smile will raise their cheeks, but try to pull the corners of their mouth downward.

The Tale of the Old Man with a Sad Smile – Tender Puls

A qualifier smile is used when expressing negative or disappointing news to another person. According to psychologist Paul Ekman, the qualifier smile is usually accompanied by a head nod and a slight down and sideways tilt of the head. The qualifier smile serves as a way to deliver bad news with a little less sting. Depending on the situation, this can often be a misleading nonverbal cue for the person on the receiving end.

These two types of smile are interesting because they reflects cultural norms. That is, how different areas of the world vary in how they share smiles. For example, in a country like Japan where displays of emotion are discouraged, people smile with their eyes rather than their lips.


10. Sneer

Sneers fit perfectly into the dominance category of smiles that are used to exert influence and power over another. This mocking and sarcastic smile exudes disdain for another. Sneers are typically lopsided where one side of the mouth will be upturned while the other remains down.

sneering young man

This type of smile does intimidate others. Research revealing that people on the receiving end of a dominant smile tended to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva for up to 30 minutes after the encounter.


11. Contempt Smile

The contempt smile indicates a mixture of disgust and resentment and is disconcertingly similar to a Duchenne Smile of true delight, except for the corners of the lips which appear tightened.

close up of contempt face on a lady

This smile is common in parts of the world where it’s not socially acceptable to show anger. Instead people tend to smile a lot when they’re angry in those parts of the world.


12. Polite Smile

Polite smiles are very common. This is the type of smile you use when you’re first meeting someone or you’re trying to convey interest in a long-winded story. Polite smiles are often employed in the workplace. That is because they give the sense of friendliness without the emotional intimacy of a genuine Duchenne smile.

Service with a (fake) smile. – What's My Place Again?

Interestingly, even babies switch between genuine and polite or false smiles. A study found that at just 10 months, for instance, an infant will offer a false smile to an approaching stranger while reserving a genuine smile for its mother.


13. Wistful Smile

A wistful smile is used when feeling a conflicting mix of happiness and sadness. This is the type of smile you’d have when reflecting on the loss of a loved one and the memories you shared.

10 Main Types of Smiles and What They Really Mean

While it might be odd to think of smiling during emotional moments, the ability to smile as you grieve is thought to help protect you as you recover.


14. Flirtatious Smile

Often referred to as the Mona Lisa smile, the flirtatious smile can be employed in a number of ways depending on the personality or style of the person doing the flirting.

Mr Bean' at 30: Childish, anarchic behaviour always funny, says Rowan Atkinson -

Coy flirters might smile while tipping their head down slightly, while a subtle flirt might keep their lips together and lift an eyebrow.


15. Open Mouth Smile

The open mouth smile is often used by celebrities to invoke a sense of closeness with others. This smile conveys a care-free and happy attitude and mimics the facial expression of a person laughing.

Here are all the different types of smiles, according to science — Quartz

According to psychologist Paul Ekman, this type of smile can often include two emotions: enjoyable-surprise or enjoyable-excitement. Ekman says the enjoyable-surprise can be spotted by a raised brow, dropped jaw and a raised upper eyelid.


click here red button to contact healthy business builder sales and customer service leadership training 1300 833 574

To Book Your Team’s Positive Communication Workshop


The Take Home Message

Smiles are powerful, complex and different. They may express genuine bursts of feeling. They may be intentionally crafted for a specific purpose. It matters not, except to know that smiles serve as crucial functions in systems of human interaction and effective and positive communication.

A good smile is contagious. It can change someone’s day. As we remind our children – make someone smile today! 🙂


Send us your LinkedIn Profile Smile and we will tell you how a customer or recruitment agency sees it?


Call us to organise your team of professionals to be part of your bespoke training and build a positive culture in your business. Each focus learning area will be tailored to your team’s needs and challenges. 2 x 90 minutes Positive Communication Virtual Workshops. Pick one or all of the topics from our Positive Communication Workshops:


Positive Communication Workshop
  1. Why Are We Here? Positive Value Proposition
  2. Effective Communication
  3. Communication in Uncertain Times
  4. Power of Words
  5. Infectious Positivity
  6. Reframing Speech for Positive Communication
  7. Understanding Human Behaviour for a Positive Culture
  8. Strengthen your Emotional Intelligence


click here red button to contact healthy business builder sales and customer service leadership training 1300 833 574

To Book Your Team’s Positive Communication Workshop


Build a Positive Culture in your business. Call 1300 833 574 or email to get your team booked in to their Positive Communication Workshop, either onsite or virtually.

Sales and Key Account Management Training, Hope Is Not A Strategy Quote | Healthy Business Builder HBB Group ORANGE