Distress Tolerance 6: Half-Smile

This is not a good example of a half-smile

So apparently there’s some kind of feedback mechanism in our bodies that sends happy signals to our brains when we smile, even if the smile is faked. People will tell you to smile, and you’ll feel better. Myth, right?


And also, kinda.

Plastering a smile on your face when you feel rotten in order to jump-start some happy-feels in your brain is grade A bullshit. But there is something more subtle you can try that will at least interrupt a downward spiral.

Grumpy Cat does not half-smile

It’s called the half-smile, and it’s a small tool you can keep in your arsenal that will help tip the scales towards willingness and reality acceptance (which I will go into more detail later).

A half-smile is not a fake plastered smile. It’s subtle. You first relax your face. let go of tension in your eyebrows and your jaw. Breathe. let the corners of your mouth turn upwards slightly. Breathe.

The half-smile should be a smile of calm serenity. It’s not a mask, it should be genuine. It’s also not a grin. I’m a big fan of using humour to get through pain; its a way to distance yourself from your suffering, but that’s not the purpose of the half-smile.

not a good example of the half-smile

When you half smile, you gently shift your face into a more relaxed and accepting position and your brain will take the hint. Muscle memory in your face sends a subtle message to the brain that what you’re experiencing in this moment is not so bad. You’re not in danger, you don’t need to fly into a defensive response. The brain will recognize the serene muscle memory and the distressful response will be interrupted, giving you a better chance of implementing your other tools to get you through until you are feeling much better.

Not helpful, not half-smile

Believe me, I was extremely skeptical with this particular tool, I still am, especially when my cynical brain steps in and tells me that it’s all bullshit. It’s not all bullshit, I mean, there is a lot of bullshit in popular platitudes and well-intentioned strangers telling you to “just perk up and smile”. But the half smile isn’t about them. It’s only about you. Its something you can keep just for yourself to use when you need it and screw anyone who tells to to ‘cheer up and put on a happy face’.

Also not helpful, also not the half-smile

The half-smile can also be a sort of ‘welp-that’s-just-the-way-it-is-now-I’d-better-just-deal’ kind of smile. Use it when you wake up in the morning and the day ahead seems like a death tour of the Himalayas (seriously, there are a lot of bodies on Mt. Everest, google it.).

Use it when you have to push a waffle through your face for breakfast.

Use it when you stub your toe on the intake vent AGAIN.

Use it when you’re enjoying your millionth re-watch of Paw Patrol with the kids.

Use it when plotting the demise of your enemies.

Use it when Chad Kroeger comes on the radio.

The best example I could find of the half-smile