Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 30, 2015


It was a beautiful autumn day with a bright blue sky and just a bit of a chill in the air. It made me walk a little more slowly and breathe a bit more deeply than usual as I made my way across the Kansas State University campus. Most of the people I saw had their eyes on their phones.

As I passed McCain Auditorium, I noticed the limestone sign had something written on it. "Smile in" was written in white chalk above the etched "McCain Auditorium." I smiled almost involuntarily.

Continuing toward my office in Kedzie Hall, I noticed "Smile" written several times on the sidewalk. Again, I grinned. As I rounded the corner to the east-side steps, one "Smile" greeted me from a limestone post and another from the top step.

"Who took the time to do that?" I wondered.

Students often promote various events by chalking on campus sidewalks, but the only reason I could see for writing that little one-word command was to, well, get people to smile!

But it also started me thinking about smiling. As soon as I reached my office, I began some Internet research. I discovered from the Merriam-Webster medical dictionary that we owe our ability to smile to zygomaticus major: It is:

a slender band of muscle on each side of the face that arises from the zygomatic bone, inserts into the orbicularis oris and skin at the corner of the mouth, and acts to pull the corner of the mouth upward and backward when smiling or laughing.

Hmm. Interesting, but not really what I was looking for.

According to nationalsmilemonth.org, Charles Darwin was one of the first to examine the human smile. Darwin noted that smiling is universal across cultures, unlike body language such as gestures or touch.

Another website, sparkpeople.com, cited a 1984 article in the journal "Science" that showed when people adjust their bodies to duplicate how it looks when they are feeling certain emotions, their bodies produce physical changes such that they feel the emotion. So when people force their faces into smiles, they actually feel happier.

One of the differences between a forced smile and a real smile is the involvement of some of the muscles around the eyes. In a genuine smile, we tend to squeeze our eyes closed a bit, causing them to appear to "sparkle."

The site said research shows that smiling is contagious, and referred to the lyrics from Louis Armstrong's song "When You're Smiling."

When you're smilin', keep on smilin'
The whole world smiles with you.
And when you're laughin', oh when you're laughin'
The sun comes shinin' through"

Another song about smiling was composed by Charlie Chaplin. He wrote "Smile" for his 1936 movie, "Modern Times." John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added the lyrics and title in 1954. It was sung by Judy Garland and Nat King Cole, the latter version reaching number 10 on the pop chart. It was also used as the theme song on NBC-TV'S "The Jerry Lewis Show" from 1967-'69.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you'll get by

If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through
for you"

A smile can also show more than just happiness. It may also indicate acceptance. Most of us smile when we are introduced to someone we haven't previously met as a sort of welcoming gesture.

Husband Art recalled an event that sort of blended both. A well-known comedian on one of the late-night talk shows related a story of what happened to him while he was a stand-up comic in a club. Well into his routine, he became irritated by a man in the front row who never smiled at any of his jokes. He finally asked the guy if he'd had a tough day as he never smiled. The man said he was really enjoying the show, but his face was paralyzed so he couldn't smile.

A few years ago, I wrote a column about World Smile Day. I looked at it again to refresh my memory about the day's origin. The idea was initiated by Harvey Ball, a commercial artist who created the Smiley Face in 1963. In 1999, Ball declared that the first Friday in October each year would be World Smile Day, a day when each person would "Do an act of kindness. Make one person smile."

Aha! Maybe that's what the chalker was doing - celebrating World Smile Day. I don't know about the people who were lost in their cell phones, but those little chalked one-word messages not only prompted me to learn a few things, but certainly made me smile as well.

Top-left: McCain Auditorium sign; bottom-left: sidewalk to Kedzie Hall from the parking lot; right: entrance to Kedzie Hall.

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