Smiling Can Change How We Perceive the World

Smiling can change how we perceive the world, according to a study, by positively influencing our mood and making us more aware of opportunities, even in times of crisis.

Next time you want someone to think nicely of you, give them a hot cup of tea to hold while you talk to them. Some studies demonstrate how our bodily experiences affect our idea of abstract concepts. Similarly, if you want someone to give importance to what you are saying, offer them something heavy to hold.

Perhaps you should be holding a rock right now.

Our Perception of the World


Our perception of the world is a two-way process. The external impulses are the input, and the meaning we give to them after processing, is the output. How we make sense of the information that we receive determines how we approach the world.

Our previous experiences and hopes are essential elements of this process. If we are hopeful and trust in Allah, our experiences in life will be more positive and rewarding. The reason being, that, as we process external information, it is with the knowledge that no matter the circumstances, there is something good in it for us. There is a Hadith that relates to this:

Strange are the ways of a believer for there is good in every affair of his and this is not the case with anyone else except in the case of a believer for if he has an occasion to feel delighted, he thanks (God), thus, there is a good for him in it, and, if he gets into trouble and shows resignation (and endures it patiently), there is a good for him in it.

Sahih Muslim

Answering Evil with Goodness

It was transmitted from Anas ibn Malik that as he walked with the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), who was wearing a Najrani sheet with a thick border, a desert Arab overtook him and forcibly pulled his clothes. Anas ibn Malik looked at the shoulder of the Prophet and saw that the edge of the shirt had left a mark because of the strength of the pull. The man said: O Muhammad, order them to give me something from Allah’s wealth which you have! The Prophet turned, smiling, and commanded that he be given charity. (Sahih Bukhari)

The Prophet (peace be upon him), received the external impulse from the man who was behaving ruthlessly. After processing this information, he could have responded in the same ruthless way, but he did not. He smiled at the man and answered his demand.

Viktor Frankl, a famous psychologist, said: “Between the impulse and the response there is a space. In it lies our freedom.”

The Prophet (peace be upon him), was a free man; unfettered by the desires and demands of this world. When the world was forcefully presented to him, he smiled.

Smiling Can Change How You Perceive the World

In a study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1998, Vol. 74, No. 1, 272-279), a group of psychologists of the University of Alaska Anchorage presented the findings of an experiment titled: “Effect of Self-Generated Facial Expressions on Mood.”

The goal of the experiments was to test how self-generated facial expressions, positive and negative ones, impact our mood. The study concluded that those who engage in positive facial expressions, like smiling, experience an increase in positivity and a better mood, and vice versa. Those who engage in negative facial expressions, like frowning, experience an increase in negativity.

The result of the study is not surprising if we understand that half of how we perceive the world is the way we process the information received. If we are hopeful and trust in Allah, our perception would be positive. And the opposite is also true. Smiling is the output and the sign of our positive processing.

Smiling in the Times of COVID

Recently I was browsing Instagram -and you know how mindless that activity can get- and unexpectedly I came across a video.

The video was a reflection of the opportunity that the current Covid-19 pandemic can present to us. Without underestimating the health and economic effects of the pandemic, the video asked: what are we to do, right now, in this situation? How do we process and respond to it positively?

The future will demand that we engage in community building, that we help those more needed, that we find creative and sustainable ways to relate to one another and the planet. But right now, what can we do?

We can endure with patience and turn to our Lord. The current circumstances require us to spend a vast amount of time indoors, allowing for opportunities to increase our worship, make our prayers on time, to learn and reflect. For many, it is as if. Allah has revealed through the pandemic our excuses in fulfilling these duties. We can no longer make such excuses as not having enough time, being excessively overworked, or too busy with extracurricular activities.

For the believer, the pandemic presents an excellent opportunity to fortify our knowledge, immerse ourselves in worship, and strengthen our faith. Then, when life returns to normal, we are ready to act. That can be a reason to smile, even during this time of crisis.

The Positive Feedback Loop of Smiling

Smiling is a positive feedback loop. When we smile, we enhance our mood. When our mood is enhanced, we see the opportunities that are in front of us, even during difficult circumstances. When we are aware of these opportunities, it gives us a reason to feel better, be more positive, and smile more.

When we are in a positive frame of mind, our energy becomes contagious, our willingness to help others increases, and we are better able to respond to evil with goodness. These combined elements are a necessary game-changer for humanity and our planet. As Allah says in the Quran:

And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon, the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.

Quran, 41:34

And He also says:

Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.

Quran, 13:11

And it all begins with something as simple as a smile. A smile that can change how we perceive and the world and how we act on it.

About Luqman Nieto
Luqman Nieto completed the memorization of the Quran at the age of 18, in Majorca Spain. Afterwards he finished a BA in History, Politics and Islamic Studies at Dallas College in Cape Town, South Africa. He also holds a MA in cinematography and is currently pursuing a Degree in Psychology at UOC. He has studied traditional Islamic Sciences with different shuyukh in Spain, Morocco and Egypt. He has worked as a media producer and his writings have appeared in online and print media. You can catch more of him in or in social media @luqmannieto