Home Mental Health & Well-Being The Joy of a Duchenne Smile: How a Simple Facial Expression Can Convey Deep Happiness

The Joy of a Duchenne Smile: How a Simple Facial Expression Can Convey Deep Happiness

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The ability to discern genuine happiness in others is a valuable skill in our social interactions. One of the most reliable indicators of true joy is the Duchenne smile, a specific type of smile that involves both the muscles around the mouth and the eyes. Named after the French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne, who first identified it in the 19th century, this smile has been extensively researched in the fields of psychology and social sciences. 

What’s a Duchenne smile?

The Duchenne smile is characterised by the simultaneous contraction of the zygomatic major muscle (which raises the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which causes crow’s feet around the eyes). This combination of muscle movements is often a spontaneous reaction to genuine joy, making it a reliable indicator of true happiness. In contrast, non-Duchenne smiles, which involve only the muscles around the mouth, are often perceived as less sincere and can be easily feigned.

Research has demonstrated the significance of the Duchenne smile in social interactions. A 2007 study found that people with Duchenne smiles in their yearbook photos reported higher levels of personal well-being years later. This suggests that genuine happiness, as reflected in the Duchenne smile, can have long-term positive effects on individuals’ lives.

Duchenne smile and emotional intelligence

Recognising a Duchenne smile is not just about observing facial movements; it also involves a level of emotional intelligence. The ability to discern genuine emotions in others is a key component of social interactions and relationships. People who can accurately identify a Duchenne smile are often more empathetic and have better social skills. They are attuned to the emotional states of others, which enables more meaningful and positive interactions.

A 2020 study highlighted the role of the Duchenne smile in perceived trustworthiness and empathy. Participants who displayed Duchenne smiles were rated as more trustworthy and empathetic compared to those with non-Duchenne smiles.

The impact of Duchenne smiles in digital communication

In the digital age, where face-to-face interactions are often replaced by digital communication, the nuances of the Duchenne smile become even more significant. The ability to convey genuine positivity through digital mediums, such as video calls or social media, is crucial for maintaining strong interpersonal relationships. Emoticons and emojis, often used to express emotions in digital communication, have been designed to mimic the Duchenne smile, underscoring its importance in conveying sincerity and warmth.

A 2022 study explored the impact of Duchenne smiles in video conferencing. It found that participants who displayed Duchenne smiles were perceived as more engaged and approachable, enhancing the quality of digital interactions.

The therapeutic power of the Duchenne smile

The Duchenne smile does not only signal genuine happiness in others; it can also have a therapeutic effect on the person smiling. Smiling, even if initially forced, can trigger a cascade of chemical reactions in the brain, releasing dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters can reduce stress and increase feelings of happiness. The act of smiling, particularly a Duchenne smile, can therefore be a self-initiated pathway to improving one’s mood and emotional well-being.

A 2019 study revealed that participants who engaged in Duchenne smiling during stressful tasks exhibited lower heart rate levels post-task, suggesting a physiological response to the act of genuine smiling.


The ability to recognise a Duchenne smile is an invaluable skill for social and emotional intelligence. In a world where digital interactions are increasingly common, the nuances of genuine facial expressions become even more vital for perceiving sincerity and building trust. Beyond identifying joy in others, the Duchenne smile has a therapeutic power – it can lift our own moods and lower stress.

Perhaps this dual capacity of the Duchenne smile – to signal true happiness outwardly and also amplify it inwardly, is what makes it such an important marker for social connection and individual well-being. Mastering the recognition of the crinkled eyes and wide mouth movement may hold the key to both deeper empathy and self-care.

Olivia Green, a passionate writer and researcher in the field of psychology, specialises in emotional intelligence and nonverbal communication.

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