I attended a lecture this past week where the speaker quoted Abraham Lincoln in saying (probably self-deprecatingly): “By the time we are 50 years old, we have the face we deserve.” The phrase stuck with me: not only is Honest Abe an all-time hero of mine, but I was reading something recently that talked about the gradual physiological effects of people’s dispositions. In essence, the author claimed that our physical appearance gradually changes over time depending on how often we smile, smirk, laugh, or frown.
Anecdotal evidence of this phenomenon abounds: we talk about the “pregnancy glow” or a guilty conscience showing through one’s face. There’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and the apocryphal story of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, where the same man posed for both Christ and Judas, with several years of errant living rendering the man unrecognizable. We quip that “Wrinkles are only proof of where smiles have been,” and I particularly enjoy Oscar Wilde’s witticism that “A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction.”
At any rate, today I had the opportunity to put Lincoln’s hypothesis to the test by doing a little people-watching. On a flight out to New York, I decided to see if I could tell which of my fellow passengers were generally happy and which were not simply by looking at their faces. Believe you me, it works. (I fully encourage everyone to try this little exercise the next time you are in crowded place.)
I need to smile more.