Photo from Eatsmarter.com

                                               ODE TO SMILE-MAKING

When you’re smiling, the muscles it takes are 17.

But, when you’re scowling, it takes 43 and looks so mean.

When you’re smiling, you look better even on frumpy days with bad hair.

Smiles are always in fashion, it’s the very most important thing to wear.

Even when you’re feeling grouchy, think up and in a little while,

You’ll be smiling and beguiling, life is just more joyful when you smile.

SMILE-MAKING, one of the four essentials of “Joy & Aging,” is about positive-thinking and about positive-doing.  

It could seem like a blatant dose of the obvious. Well duh, if you are positively beaming you must already be joyful, right? It is true that by simply smiling you increase your chances for joy.

Smile-making has two parts: First, think of all the positive things that bring a smile to your face, start a roster of these. Next—start making smile-inducing things happen today and often. Take action. Make more smiles.

Smiling is self-care and therapeutic. In talks as “The Gerontologist of Joy,” I encourage everyone reading, even my most stern-faced, left-brained colleagues, to smile the very first thing when you wake up each morning. Open your eyes to the light, stretch a SMILE from ear-to-ear, then get out of bed.

If you need to be prompted to start your day with a smile—put a “Smiley Face” sticker on your alarm clock and decorate the ceiling above your bed with a happy, upturned smile. After a month, smiling at the start of the day will become a happiness habit.

Smile-making is also a wonderful gift from you to others. If you cohabitate, I encourage you to start the smile-sharing at home and then go out and safely spread it to the world.

ACTION: Think about someone or a group you are in like a study club or a prayer circle and share these thoughts on smile-making from the writer, Richelle Goodrich, in her self-help bestseller, SMILE ANYWAY:

“One smile has the power to…calm fears. Soften stone walls. Warm a cold heart. Invite a new friend. Mimic a loving hug. Beautify the bearer. Lighten heavy loads. Promote good deeds. Brighten a gloomy day. Comfort a grieving spirit. Offer hope to the forlorn. Send a message of caring. Lift the downtrodden soul. Patch up invisible wounds. Weaken the hold of misery. Act as medicine for suffering. Attract the companionship of angels. Fulfill the human need for recognition. Who knew changing the world could prove so simple?”

When I’m not smiling, I’m told I resemble those giant, stone-faced heads on Easter Island. But, like that beret-tossing, American joy-giver, Mary Tyler Moore, I can “turn the world on with a smile…and take a nothing day and suddenly make it seem worthwhile.”  I’m certain of it and I’m certain you can as well.

Smiling is something we can do as a neighboring act of kindness. We owe it to our public. You smile and then I see you smiling, and I smile and then suddenly smiles are beaming across the universe.

Scientists report our brains don’t seem to distinguish between when we are genuinely smile-making or smile-faking. As long as you smile big enough to make your eyes sort of scrunch up, your brain positively reads that as joy.


“Sometimes your JOY is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

“When a new day begins, dare to smile gratefully…When you cross paths with another, dare to make them smile.”—Steve Maraboli

“Peace begins with a smile.”—Mother Teresa

“You make me smile like the sun…just the thought of you can drive me wild. Oh, you make me smile.”—Uncle Kracker

“What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity.”—Joseph Addison

“If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We could plague everyone with JOY.”—Sri S. Satchidananda

“You’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile.”—Charlie Chaplin

PROGRAMMING YOUR BRAIN FOR MORE SMILES—Just as it’s easier for some people to maintain a desired weight–life really isn’t fair–it’s also easier for some people to maintain a sunnier, more positive outlook on life. However, with a bit of imagination, practice, discipline and positive psychological changes can add more smiles to our lives. (Here are some suggestions from 40 years of Joy & Gerontology):

  1. REFLECT ON HAPPY MEMORIES—start a journal where you “Ac-cent the positive, and e-liminate the negative, and don’t mess with Mr. In-Between”—think of the good things that have happened in your life and the good people who helped bring you smiles. Mawmaw? Pappaw? Aunt Fanny? Your third-grade teacher, Mr. Farkle?
  2. BE GRATEFUL 24/7—a quick formula to remember is: GRATITUDE + OPTIMISM = JOY. You don’t need to wait for prayer time, instead throughout the day take 30-second pauses to refresh your gratefulness as you remind yourself of positive things in your life.
  3. HANG OUT WITH HAPPY PEOPLE—just as research shows being with weight-conscious people helps maintain dieting discipline, choosing to be with more upbeat individuals and groups will help you smile more.
  4. SMILES IN/SMILES OUT—joy is a choice. When you’re selecting a movie or music or book, choose those which generate smiles not anxiety or sadness. When was the last time you chose to go to a comedy club instead of dinner?
  5. ADD NATURE and SUNLIGHT EVERY DAY POSSIBLE—These natural injections cause immediate brain changes that allow for greater positivity.
  6. SMILE CUES—Just as smelling the popcorn in a movie lobby or seeing golden, popping kernels on the screen cue your brain to hang out with Orville Redenbacher, you can create your own “smile-making cues”– these are personal, subjective cues for each individual to construct, but I can tell you that two of mine are that I’ve cued my brain to smile when I see someone wearing a school bus yellow something (not often enough) and also when I hear ducks who quack like cartoon laughter during my regular walks around the city pond.

SMILE-MAKING ENHANCED BY DENTISTRY—Many people are reluctant to smile because they aren’t confident about the way their teeth look. This week, I talked with Dr. Lindsey Marecle Marshall of Signature Smiles of Cullman to get a professional’s perspective. In the unique practice she founded with Dr. Katie Stidham, they first explore how each patient feels about that patient’s teeth and smile. Knowing why someone might want to make some sort of physical enhancement allows these gifted doctors to create a customized plan for such transitions as whitening, fixing diastemas (the space between teeth) and rotations (the shape of each tooth). About the success their practice is enjoying, Dr. Marshall responded with gratitude and enthusiasm, “I love my work. Helping others smile makes me smile.” (Signature Smiles of Cullman (256) 531-9983.)

SMILE-MAKING ENHANCED BY LIPSTICKS—In this smile-challenged time of the pandemic lockdown, new lipstick shades are doing a booming business. Be prepared when you talk with super joy-giver Charlene Brock of Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio, to hear about the 2022 colors from “Mischief” berries to black cherries, then there are “ Peppy” and “Perky” peaches and all the metallics, nudes, oranges, purples and luscious reds. When Charlene and I spoke, she shared a true and near-tragic story about the crucial connections we humans make through smiling. Her smile-making shop is across from Books-A-Million. Ask Charlene to share the story which touched her heart and will make your heart smile. (Merle Norman, Cullman, AL (256)734-2191)

THE SECOND PART OF SMILE-MAKING IS POSITIVE DOING—Eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant is credited with these concise rules for happiness: “Something to do. Someone to love. Something to hope for.” The activities that cause each of us to smile depend on the individual. Many times, I’ve heard people say they expected to be perfectly happy doing nothing in their years following retirement.

Statistically, endless hours of doing nothing simply doesn’t bring joy. We are wired with a need to achieve something purposeful each day. We don’t have to be moving civilization forward, but we do need something positive to do.

Three hours a day of lollygagging according to geriatric medical researchers, and yes, lollygagging I’m sure is what the Harvard psychologists call it, is typically the upper limit for happiness. Whether it’s reading a book or needlework, doing something proactive simply adds more joy to every stage of living.

WHAT ACTIVITIES MIGHT MAKE YOU SMILE MORE? Can’t think of anything or you would have already done it? I regularly recommend Barbara Ann Kipfer’s “14,000 Things to Be Happy About.” Get a copy of the still-popular paperback and a stash of sunny yellow highlighters and find some potential bliss. If you can’t find some joy out of 14,000 things, you are overly enjoying being cranky and cantankerous.

Here are some smile-making things that are current favorites for me to suggest:

  1. COOK LOCAL—Get to know your farmers, growers, beekeepers and more—visit your farmer’s market and call your county Extension agent to explore.
  2. EXERCISE TO A FREE ONLINE CLASS—I found a good one created in Northeastern Pennsylvania: https://www.discovernepa.com/.
  3. TAKE A FREE CRAFT-MAKING CLASS ONLINE—Craft supply stores like Hobby Lobby offer classes.
  4. SWEDISH DEATH CLEANING—It’s not a very smile-making phrase but actually taking action with some Marie Kondo-esque organizing of stuff gives many and their loved one’s joy.
  5. JOIN A UNITING “GAMING COMMUNITY”—This can be a major “time suck” but think of all the smiles such groups as “Dungeons and Dragons” have generated across the globe.
  6. MAKE UP YOUR OWN DANCE—You can find some goofy happiness and a bit of aerobic exercise in any dance that has a name—”The Swim,” “The Shag,” “The Hully Gully”—In the smile-making musical I co-wrote, “The Original, One-Liner American Diner,” a favorite number is “The Hypocrite Twist” which has such choreographed moves such as “smile in their face as you stab ‘em in the back”—please, it’s tongue-in-cheek, how low can you go?
  7. ZOOM A POT-LUCK DINNER and SHARE RECIPES—Even during pandemic quarantines folks gotta eat some smile-making tasty treats.
  8. STUDY YOUR GENEALOGY for UNITING CONNECTEDNESS—Check your local library and nearby historical society to get started.
  9. BECOME A “MOTH STORYTELLER” or a “TED Talker”—You’ve got a great story in you just waiting to be rehearsed and shared. Check out the “Moth Story Hour” at https://www.npr.org/.
  10. START OR JOIN a “JOY BOOK CLUB”—Some writers such as Nick Hornby, Daniel Wallace, Fannie Flagg or Anne Tyler are surefire smile-makers; ask your librarian and your bookseller.


“My son asked me, “Daddy, why do bees stay in the hive in the winter?” I smiled and answered…”Swarm.”

“Why should you attempt to hit a fortune-teller who is smiling? Because you should always try and strike a happy medium.”

“My girlfriend said: “You’ve never smiled at me since we started dating.” And, I was like, “I thought you said you wanted a serious relationship.”


Jan. 15—Dr. King

Jan. 16—Lin-Manuel Miranda

Jan. 17—Betty White

Jan. 18—A.A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh)

Jan. 19—Dolly Parton

Jan. 20—George Burns

Jan. 21—Christian Dior

                                                  A TRULY SMILE-MAKING SANDWICH

                                                        (Source: eatsmarter.com)

Remember when some smile-maker made you little sandwiches shaped like fish and birds and hearts? Transport yourself and others to happy times with a healthy sandwich with a goofy grin.


1 poppy seed Roll

Butter for brushing

2 lettuce leaves

1 thin, cooked ham slice

Red paprika


Carrots (peeled)



  1. Slice each roll in half and spread with butter.
  2. On the lower half, add lettuce, ham and cheese and top with top half of roll.
  3. Cut out slices of cucumber and use for eyes. Use butter to attach. Add a slice of chive for a pupil on the eye. Cut peppers in half and use for mouth. Thinly slice carrot and use as a nose. Serve pronto.

1,070 JOY-GIVING THINGS from MY FIRST 70 YEARS (continued):

45. Smile-making face jugs by Alabama potter, Jerry Brown, in the Smithsonian Museum.

46. Vivaldi’s “Goldfinch” played by flautist, James Galway.

47. Pawley’s Island hammocks.

48. Yard eggs.

49. “Oh, behave.”

50. Paying forward.

51. The Ministry of Silly Walks.

52. “Spamalot.”

53. The King Tut blockbuster.

54. “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

55. WWOZ, New Orleans blues/jazz public radio.

56. WLRH, Huntsville classical public radio.

57. The Boxcar Children series.

58. The silly spectacle of Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra.”

59. Raquel Welch in Broadway’s “Applause.”

60. Blackened redfish.

61. The introduction of Ranch Dressing.

62. The champagne cork and bubbles of “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

63. Chatting with “Cosmo Magazine” founder, Helen Gurley Brown.

64. “My Favorite Martian.”

65. Chef Gray Kunz at Lespinasse—St. Regis Hotel.

66. An assortment of pies.

67. Bellingrath Gardens and the Azalea Trail in Mobile.

68. “Sock it to me.”

69. The Smile Train.



Ben South