How to Smile Naturally And Genuinely (In Any Situation)
By David Morin | Last updated: August 26, 2021
“I hate how I look when I smile. I have a gummy smile, and my lips seem to disappear. I’ve become so self-conscious that I overthink my smile every time I have my picture taken, and I freeze up. How can I learn to smile without looking awkward?”
Smiling is something we all do naturally, but many people feel insecure about their smiles.
It’s also important to know that the way we smile changes how other people see us.
Smiling in a certain way at the wrong time can make someone come across as nervous, insensitive, or even somewhat creepy. For example, if someone is talking about a painful subject, a broad grin or smirk may make them feel mocked. In contrast, a warm, genuine smile could help them feel supported.
This guide will help you learn how to smile without feeling awkward in a variety of situations. It also contains advice on what to do if you dislike your natural smile.
How to smile naturally
When we feel nervous, we often smile without using our eyes. These smiles look fake because they signal that you’re not genuine.
The natural smile comes automatically when you’re comfortable. However, we often feel a bit nervous in social situations. It can help to learn some techniques for how to smile with your eyes.
1. Notice what a real smile feels like
The next time you’re smiling or laughing, try to pay attention to how it feels in your body. Memorize the feeling in your cheeks. Notice how it feels for you.
As you get better at noticing what a real smile feels like, you’ll get better at noticing what a fake smile feels like.
When you smile in day-to-day situations, let your eyes be the activators and try to recreate that feeling in your cheeks.
As your social confidence increases, you will start to enjoy social situations more. As a result, your smile will automatically become genuine without you having to think about it.
2. Practice in front of a mirror
Stand in front of a mirror and think of something that makes you happy. It may help to initially look away and then look back at the mirror once you’re already smiling.
As you look at yourself smiling, pay attention to how different parts of your face look. Notice how your cheeks lift up. What happens to your eyes and the corners of your mouth as you smile a real smile? See if anything happens to your forehead. Try covering your mouth to see if you can tell when you’re smiling just by looking at your eyes.
Then, notice what happens when you smile a fake smile. Try different types of smiles to see how different your face looks. Try a half-smile, one-sided smile, a smile with teeth, and then try smiling with your mouth closed.
3. Smile more in everyday life
You need to practice to get the perfect smile. If you don’t smile much, it will feel awkward and strange to attempt it in public or in photos.
Watch a comedy show or sitcom. Let smiling and laughing be a natural part of your day. Slowly increase your comfort zone by watching funny videos, movies, and shows with close friends and gradually people you’re not as close to.
Deliberately starting the day with a smile can be a great reminder to smile more. Listen to music that makes you happy while dancing around your room, or find another morning activity that can help you start the day with a grin.
4. Take a selfie and examine your smile
Use your phone to see how different types of smiles look in pictures. Try a smile with teeth, and then try smiling with your mouth closed. Notice how different types of smiles change the way you look.
5. Learn about the different types of smiles
Smiling in different ways can communicate different messages to the people we’re talking to. A smile can say: “I’m uncomfortable,” “I’m sorry to hear that,” “this is embarrassing,” and many other meanings. Learning about different types of smiles can help you convey the right emotion through smiling across a variety of situations.
You can read about more types of smiles here.
6. Smile with both sides of your face
Paul Ekman claimed we can learn to tell different smiles apart by physical signs. One of those signs is facial symmetry: we tend to only smile with one side when we feel uncomfortable. If you explain an idea to someone and that person only smiles on one side, they probably haven’t bought into your idea.
To come off as sincere and genuine, smile with both sides of your face.
7. Embrace your uniqueness
When we look in a mirror, we tend to see all of our faults. When other people look at us, they may not even notice our “flaws” or think they’re as bad as we do.
We all have a unique smile and laugh. Smiling and laughing is good for us. Some studies show that smiling and laughing may have positive effects on our immune system and physical health. Furthermore, spontaneous smiles can improve our relationships with others. That’s why sharing a genuine smile with someone is a lot more important than having a “perfect” smile.
How to smile while talking
According to Ekman, we try to cover up our nervous facial expressions by smiling. We do this subconsciously.
We do this because we’re not so good at hiding how we feel. To compensate, we try to cover one facial expression with another.
People subconsciously pick up on an insincere smile. A nonstop nervous grin looks insincere.
On the other hand, not smiling at all will also make us look nervous. This is because some people tense their muscles when they feel anxious instead of smiling. That creates a stiff facial expression.
Here is when you should smile during a conversation:
- Within the first few seconds of meeting someone. A natural smile shows that you are happy to meet, that you have nothing to hide, and that you enjoy the moment.
- Whenever the other person is smiling. If someone smiles at you and you don’t smile back, they may be left feeling insecure. For example, they might wonder, “Why didn’t he/she smile? Did I say something wrong?” Smiling back when someone smiles at you can make them feel more secure in the conversation, and as a result, they will enjoy it more.
- Whenever you’re talking about something amusing or happy. If the conversation is funny for both of you, or if you’re in a funny situation, it’s a good time to smile.
- Whenever you’re about to leave. Smiling before saying goodbye signals that you like the person, that you have enjoyed your conversation, and it will reassure the other person that you’re up for meeting again.
For more on how to smile naturally and make eye contact during conversations, read our guide on eye contact.
How to smile for photos
Take a look at the pictures below. Notice how the person in the photos to the right looks natural, confident, attractive, and as though he is enjoying the situation.
The person to the left appears less attractive and perhaps even a bit afraid. These differences show how powerful smiling with the eyes is.
Using a genuine smile will take some time to learn. Memorize the feeling in your upper cheeks when you’re smiling with your eyes. As you become more familiar with the sensation of a genuine smile, it will become easier to notice when your smile isn’t natural as well.
Just raising your chest and cheeks can have a massive influence on how you’re perceived.
To bring a genuine smile into your photos, try these tips:
1. Take a minute to relax before the photo
Your smile looks best when you’re relaxed and enjoying yourself. Take deep breaths, move around, tell a joke, or do whatever you need to get comfortable before taking a photo.
2. Relax your facial muscles
Take a few seconds to “exercise” your facial muscles. Make some funny faces, or move your lips and eyebrows around. You can tense up your facial muscles on purpose to then relax them and see how that feels. Once your face is relaxed, it will be easier to smile a natural smile.
3. Think about something that makes you happy
Recall a happy memory or something that made you laugh recently. Let a slight smile come to your lips. Don’t try to force or change the way that you’re smiling if it is a true smile.
4. Look away briefly before looking back
It can be challenging to hold a natural smile for a long time. In group photos, or if someone is taking your photo, you may be standing around for a while as they figure things out around you. As a result, your smile will start to feel fake as you stare at the camera.
If someone is taking your photo, ask them to count down before they snap it. Look away when they say “three.” You don’t need to smile at this point. Look towards the camera, smiling, after they get to “two.” Waiting like this will ensure you have got your photo-ready smile on at precisely the right time.
You can try the same trick in a selfie. First, look towards the camera to find the angle you want to use. Then, look away from the camera. Think of something that makes you smile. Now you’re ready to look towards the camera and snap the picture.
5. Don’t say “cheese”
Many people will have you say “cheese” when it’s time to snap a photo. As it turns out, “cheese” isn’t the best word to say if you want to produce a natural smile. Instead, try words that end with an “ah” or “ee” sound (like “yoga” or “money”).
When you’re practicing your smiles in front of a mirror, you can experiment with different words to see which produce the best effect.
6. Smile with your entire face
If you’re too nervous for a real smile, you can imitate the appearance of one by focusing on lifting the sides of your cheeks and your eyebrows. You can practice doing this in a mirror so it feels more natural when it’s time to take a photo.
How to improve your smile with dental care
You may be wondering how you can feel confident about smiling with bad teeth. You may be looking for ways to fix a gummy smile, a crooked smile, or perhaps you want to learn different ways to smile.
It may help to remember that everyone has insecurities. People are drawn to confident people who smile wide no matter how their mouth looks. Show yourself some compassion. There is no need to “fix” or change your smile or teeth.
However, it may be worth seeing your local dentist or a different specialist if this is a big insecurity for you. Getting good quality dental care may help you feel more confident about your smile. If you have a problem with your teeth, your dentist may provide you with braces or a mouth guard to use at night.
Remember to brush and floss your teeth every day. The American Dental Association has a useful website with lots of tips for a healthier mouth. If you’re struggling to remember to keep up with dental hygiene, ask your dentist for advice. Problems with personal hygiene can be a sign of depression, so consider talking to a therapist to help you build better habits if you think you may be depressed.
How to change the shape of your smile with facial exercises
One study found that middle-aged women who practiced facial exercises for half an hour a day reported more fullness in their upper and lower cheeks after their training. These findings suggest that facial exercises can make a difference to your appearance.
The women in the study were taught by a facial yoga instructor, but you can find video tutorials online that teach facial exercises, including exercises that could change the shape of your smile and make your smile more attractive.
Instructor Fumiko Takatsu has a couple you may find helpful:
- How to Get a Symmetrical Smile with Facial Exercises
- How to Correct Your Smile and Make Your Mouth Symmetrical
Research hasn’t shown conclusively whether or not face yoga works for most people, but it’s unlikely to have any negative side effects. So if it appeals to you, it’s worth a try.