One of the things that make America different from the rest of the world is how much we smile. It’s not entirely because we’re such a happy country (actually, we’re just the 14th happiest country). Instead, it’s a combination of factors that contributed to making Americans more likely to smile than others.
We’ve looked before at the origins of the American smile and talked about three particular reasons why Americans might have suddenly become interested in smiling around the turn of the 20th century.
First, it could be the fact that dentistry had become a major profession in the late 19th century, and by the 20th-century cosmetic dentistry allowed people the ability to do something about their smiles, so they started thinking about them more.
Another possible explanation is the rise of commercial advertising. These advertisements needed a visual cue showing that products would bring satisfaction, even joy if purchased. A smile is a shortcut for this, which is why advertising around this time started to feature smiles.
It’s also possible that the rise of the candid picture thanks to new Kodak cameras made people want to show their everyday lives–including their everyday joy–as they never could before. So they started taking many smiling photos and started smiling in case someone else was taking a picture.
Although people are wont to disparage the political system of the US, it does have one major benefit: it’s remarkably stable. And this stability may contribute to our tendency to want to smile. Studies have shown that in nations with high instability, people are more likely to be distrustful of those who seem to smile for no reason. But in a country like the US, we don’t have that problem. Instead, we’re more likely to trust smiling people.
However, there’s something uniquely American about our history that may contribute to our tendency to smile: immigration.
Researchers recently compared nations that were made up of immigrants with those that were made up of a homogeneous, indigenous population. They found that the immigrant nations were more likely to smile more often. The reason why is very simple.
In countries that are homogeneous, people rely on a wide variety of nonverbal cues to maintain the complex social hierarchy. But in countries with many immigrants, this is unreliable. People from different nations come with different nonverbal “vocabularies.” For nonverbal communication to work, it needed to rely on the simplest, most easily understood signals.
And what’s simpler and more easily understood than a smile? So when people from many different countries came to the US, they had to learn not only English but also the nonverbal lingua franca: smiling.
There are many reasons why smiling is so much a part of the American experience, and people may debate about which are most important. But there’s one thing that no one will debate: your smile matters here.
But what can you do if you don’t want to show your smile? Cosmetic dentistry has the power to give you a smile that you’ll be more than happy to share.