Chapter 23: A smile will gain you ten more years of life

xiào yī xiào, shí nián shǎo

 “Behind every great love is a great story” – thus reads the tagline of the 2004 film The Notebook. What is arguably even more persuasive though, is that “behind every great love is a great flirt”. Without such playful exchange, two individuals may never find out their mutual interest in one another, miss the opportunity to fall in love and jointly write that roman­tic story. In its purest form, flirting (or coquetry) is a social activity involving verbal or non-verbal communication by one person to another, insinuating an interest in a closer relationship with that other person. It implies one or both parties talking or acting in a way that hints at a deeper intimacy than the actual relationship between them would justify. This can happen by the display of frivolousness, wittiness or irony, transmitted either verbally (e.g., through naughty comments, innuendo, double entendres, complimenting, teasing, mis­chie­vous argu­mentation, questioning) or via body language (smiling, eye contact, casual touching, flicking the hair, flashing an eyebrow, batting the eyelids, lip licking, tilting the head, seeking proximity, keeping an open posture, feigned disinterest, etc.).[1],[2]

Although the proverb introduced here highlights the virtues of smiling in everyday life (in particular in terms of its favourable influence upon others), its essentiality in the building and sparking of erotic energy calls for a dedicated chapter. Indeed, an authentic smile is not only one form of expressing pleasure, happiness, or delight; it also paves the way to laugh­ter,[3] which itself has been found to have several positive health effects (pain relief[4], among others)[5]. In addition, smiling makes a person more likeable and approachable.[6] As will be discussed further down, it can also be interpreted as an advertisement of sexual interest. Women, in particular, can increase their physical attractiveness and lift their sex appeal by smiling or showing other signs of happiness[7],[8].

According to the 2004 The Flirting Report conducted by The Social Issues Research Centre in the United Kingdom, “flirting is a basic instinct, part of human nature”. Men and women are genetically programmed to flirt. Indeed, if neither of them ever tried to establish contact with members of the opposite sex by expressing some kind of interest, reproduction would not be possible. This would be the end of the human species.[9] Given the risk of embarras­sment and of rejection, taking the initiative is not self-evident and requires a minimum level of courage.[10] When a male and a female meet for the first time, the situation can be awk­ward or ambiguous for both of them. Neither of them has any idea about the other’s pur­pose or feelings. Expressing one’s own intentions or emotions verbally is often considered as too dangerous: Thoughts such as “What if she does not respond?” “If I say something silly now, he will definitely turn me down”, “I don’t know what to say”, etc. will typically cross a person’s mind when he or she is interested in someone, wishing to initiate contact, but not knowing how to. In that case, taking a flyer using body language (or non-verbal behaviour) is often the best option. The main benefit of this channel of communi­cation is that the person who wishes to convey a message of interest or attraction can do so in a com­pa­ratively discreet fashion, without risking of offending anyone or committing to any­thing.[11]




[2]    Gray (2009), pp. 197-198

[3]    Haakana (2010)

[4]    Welsh (2011)


[6]    Gladstone / Parker (2002)

[7]    Notice that a man’s smile is not necessarily as effective in attracting women. Facial expressions such as pride or even shame may, depending on the situation, have an even bigger impact on a male’s desirability.

[8]    Tracy / Beall (2011)

[9]    Fox (2004), p. 4

[10]  See also Chapter 24 “You can’t catch a cub without entering the tiger’s den”.

[11]  Fox (2014)