The Different Types of Smiles and What They Mean

Smiling is an integral part of life

It’s no secret that a cheerful, bright smile can do wonders. 

It can light up the room, attract that person you have a crush on, and even make you feel happier on a gloomy day. 

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Smiling is an integral part of promoting and maintaining a cheerful mood and laughter. It also does a great job of showing other people you care or are engaged in your conversation. 

If you find that you aren’t smiling as much as you once did, all sorts of stressors may be to blame. Symptoms of a variety of mental illnesses can also cause you to feel down, depressed, anxious, or otherwise unhappy.

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If this is the case, it may be beneficial to seek a trusted therapist’s guidance and advice. Therapy and other forms of mental healthcare can help you learn mood-boosting and self-care techniques. 

While in-person therapy may not be accessible to all, an online provider like MyTherapist can help anyone bring back their smile from wherever they have an Internet connection.

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Smiles: More Complex Than You Thought

Smiles are a key sign of happiness, but did you know that there is more than just one type of smile? 

Smiling, like other human behaviors, can be incredibly nuanced. A smile can display a number of different emotions, be genuine or ingenuine, or be a sign that someone is even hiding a more profound emotion. 

Humans have the innate ability to show multiple different emotions through a smile and perceive others’ emotions through their smile, sometimes without even realizing it. 

Below are some of the different smiles we can wear and what they mean. Look out for these types of smiles both in yourself and others – you might be surprised by what you notice!

Seven Types of Smiles and What They Mean

  • The Duchenne Smile – Named after a French anatomist, the Duchenne smile involves the contraction of both muscles around the eyes and the mouth in order to show true joy. While this type of smile was previously thought to be impossible to fake, it is indeed possible to create this smile at will, especially with practice.
  • The “Pan Am” Smile – The airline Pan Am was known for its flight attendants and their impeccable customer service, including a big smile. However, this smile, like the happiness it attempts to portray, is usually forced and not genuine. Studies show that regular performance of this smile and feigned happiness may actually increase stress.
  • The Reward Smile – Another genuine sign of joy, this smile is our body’s natural way of rewarding our babies for interacting with us. Though it is not always in reaction to our offspring, we generally use the reward smile to encourage those around us. The reward smile is rewarding for both parties. Producing this type of smile releases dopamine in our brains.
  • The Wistful Smile – Have you ever felt grief or sadness but found yourself smiling anyway? It turns out that such a phenomenon happens to many of us. Researchers believe that smiling or even laughing while in physical or emotional pain can help us cope and recover and protect ourselves and allow us to better put a guard up.
  • The Dominance Smile – Humans are competitive creatures. For this reason, we developed a way to show others that we are in power or to make them feel smaller, weaker, or threatened. Though the dominance smile can appear as more of a sneer, it still involves turning up the corners of the mouth, with one side often higher than the other.
  • The Affiliation Smile – Similar to (although different than) the reward smile, individuals employ the affiliation smile to show others that we feel compassion or empathy toward them. In addition, this type of smile often communicates that an individual wants to portray trustworthiness. This smile often presents itself as a pulling in of the corners of the mouth and a dimpling of the cheeks.
  • The Polite Smile – Different again from the affiliation and reward smiles, the polite smile attempts to gain the other’s trust while holding the emotions of the smile’s wearer at a distance. Individuals may use this smile for instances where closeness isn’t necessarily a priority, but friendliness is (such as when delivering bad news).


Smiles, whether they portray genuine happiness or any other of a range of different emotions, are a powerful tool for communication and social dynamics. 

They can dramatically influence both the wearer and the viewer. Next time you chat with someone, see if you can spot any of the smiles above. 

Better yet, challenge yourself to be more mindful of your own smiles or to incorporate those listed above into your life.

Photocredit: Marie Miguel

Marie Miguel Biography

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

Al via Taobuk 2024

Si alza il sipario su Taobuk - Taormina International Book Festival, il festival internazionale ideato e diretto da Antonella Ferrara. Fino al 24 giugno, Taobuk porterà a Taormina...