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  • Writer's pictureKelly Marks

That Smile!

I don’t know a better way to say this. Sharing toothbrushes is gross. But the other day I heard that if a person has a cavity and someone else uses their toothbrush, the second person is more likely to get a cavity as well. Cavities are contagious!

Yawns are also catching. If you see someone yawn, it doesn't matter how far away they are, you will most likely yawn too. Why are they so contagious? I used to give a practice SAT reading passage where the entire essay was about the phenomenon. Suddenly half of the kids in the room were yawning just from reading about them.

Unfortunately maybe the only thing more contagious than a yawn is covid? We all have different feelings now about even the word “contagious”. Just hearing it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and has me reaching for my mask again. Before, if someone sneezed, we looked over and said, “Bless You.” Now we pack up and leave immediately.

The other day I sat down to watch a little TV. I was searching and flipping around on Netflix when a suggestion popped up. It was a 2011 movie called Contagion about a global pandemic. NO THANK YOU!

There’s a possibility that Paul might have a slight aversion to germs (understatement!). Several years ago he ran into an old buddy of his who had been suffering from a progressive disease for quite a while. The man offered up the fact that he now had a prosthetic. Paul asked, in all seriousness, if it was contagious. The friend explained to Paul that he couldn’t “catch it” unless the man removed it and tossed it to him. (A fear of germs does not mean knowledge of them.)

Here’s the issue; things other than germs and illnesses are catching. Moods are; beliefs are; habits are. When you spend time with someone who’s in a bad mood, you may well end up in one yourself after a certain amount of time.

Turns out there’s a reason for it. We have specialized brain cells called mirror neurons, that copy what we see in others. In fact, the amygdala, part of the oldest area of the brain, can read and assess an emotion in someone’s face in as little as 33 milliseconds and get us ready to feel the same way. If an emotionally expressive person enters a group, they can transit their mood to the rest of the group within 2 minutes.

I have always loved the adage “fake-it-till-you-make-it”, but I always thought it was to just pretend till it was over or because other people didn’t deserve to bear the brunt of someone’s bad mood, but now there’s even more reason. Your brain can’t tell the difference between a real smile and a fake smile, and smiling literally tricks your brain into thinking you’re happy and causes it to start producing the neurochemicals that actually do make you happy. It’s a win-win.

So, I guess the long and short of it is: smiling makes you happy, and your being happy makes others happy. So just smile, please. The people around you might just be depending on it.

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