The Mona Lisa Smile (Half-Smile Skill)

There are times when we can all get stuck in a place of willfulness. Willfulness can take many forms including refusing to do what needs to be done, agitation, insisting on being in control, non-compliance, feelings of an internal or external tantrum, or shutting down. Luckily, our body is a wonderful resource to help us shift our emotional experiences. There has been a lot of research that proves our body language, facial expressions, and posture all send messages to our brain and can actually change our neurochemistry, thereby shifting our emotional experiences! 

Today we will be highlighting a skill called Half-Smile, which essentially can be viewed as using the opposite action to willfulness and frustration. In research, this has been named the facial feedback hypothesis. In other words, using a half smile is a way to accept reality with your body, it’s a step towards radical acceptance. The next time you notice willfulness, try to use the half smile.

Step 1: Try to relax all of your facial muscles from the top of your head down to your jawline

Step 2: Now slightly upturn the corners of your lips  (just so you can feel it, not necessarily so others notice it) while the rest of your face stays relaxed. If you need assistance, you can always gently bite down on a pen or pencil horizontally. 

Step 3: Try to adopt an overall serene facial expression. Use the Mona Lisa smile as inspiration! 

Written by: Dr. Krystal Lopez, Psy.D 

Photo by: Eric Terrade on Unsplash


Mori, K., & Mori, H. (2009). Another Test of the Passive Facial Feedback Hypothesis: When Your Face Smiles, You Feel Happy. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 109(1), 76–78. 

Buck, R. (1980). Nonverbal behavior and the theory of emotion: the facial feedback hypothesis. Journal of Personality and social Psychology, 38(5), 811.

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