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Unmask that smile. This Ontario community leader wants everyone to turn frowns upside down and show it | CBC News

A Stratford, Ont., man wants everyone to smile today and get the message out to others.

Bruce Duncan Skeaff, founder of the Stratford Pride Community Centre, said the past few weeks have been tough for people, especially after the province reintroduced pandemic restrictions set to last until at least Jan. 26. 

So on Saturday, he wants people to turn their frowns upside down.

“I think we should prove that it’s more infectious than the coronavirus,” he said in an interview.

While focused on the city he’s in, Duncan Skeaff said anyone can take part.

He’s encouraging you to use social media to post selfies of yourself smiling or use emojis to get the friendly facial expression across to others. With the post, add the hashtag #SmileStratford, or use a #Smile hashtag adding whatever city you’re in. 

Everybody in Ontario who was subjected to this could use a laugh right now I think, so anybody who wants to do Smile Goderich, Smile Kincardine, smiles anywhere, Windsor, Kingston, why not.– Bruce Duncan Skeaff

If you’re not on social media, put a smiling face or picture in your windows, he said.

“I thought this was going to be a way of lifting people’s spirits even for a day, and if we can’t get together to do it in person, let’s do it online,” he said.

“Everybody in Ontario who was subjected to this could use a laugh right now I think, so anybody who wants to do Smile Goderich, Smile Kincardine, smiles anywhere, Windsor, Kingston, why not?”

Duncan Skeaff chose Saturday as his smile day because it’s the midway point of the latest lockdown measures, which have closed indoor dining at restaurants, gyms and movie theatres for 21 days.

He said he felt the vaccine passport system was working. He had enjoyed going out for lunch or a beer after work and things felt “partly back to normal.”

“And then suddenly, wham, it’s all over,” he said of Premier Doug Ford’s announcement on Jan. 3 to return to a modified Step 2 of pandemic restrictions. “It felt like we were back to where we were a year ago. And I just saw everybody on their faces just destroyed because, you know, we thought, ‘here we go again.'”

Smiles can have ‘big impact’

According to a wellness expert, there may be something behind Duncan Skeaff’s efforts to raise spirits. 

CBC happiness and well-being columnist Jennifer Moss said encouraging smiling is beneficial because non-verbal facial cues help people make connections with each other.

“Living without those cues during the pandemic has made many of us feel lost — even if we don’t really know what is causing it,” Moss told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

With people wearing masks during the pandemic, Duncan Skeaff says it’s no longer common to see people on the streets or on local trails, smiling at each other. (David Cliff/The Associated Press)

“Smiling at someone may feel like a small gesture, but it can have a big impact. When we give and/or receive a smile, our brains flood with healthy, feel-good chemicals that increase our happiness and well-being. For anyone concerned that their smile will just get lost behind the mask — they should smile anyway. An authentic smile shows up in the eyes.”

In a study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, American psychologists analyzed nearly 50 years of data from more than 100 studies, which each tried to determine whether facial expressions can affect people’s moods, Moss noted.

The studies, which included more than 11,000 people worldwide, concluded smiling makes people feel happier, scowling makes them feel angrier and frowning makes them feel sadder.

Smiles have faded

In Stratford, Duncan Skeaff said, normally, people are out for walks, and give nods and say hello. But these days, the sidewalks and paths around the pond are nearly empty, and even those who are out commonly are wearing masks to protect themselves from the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19.

He has missed the friendly greetings and wanted to come up with something the community could do to boost everyone’s mood. He considered a gathering in the park where people wear smile buttons, but that was quickly nixed because of gathering limits. 

Jennifer Moss, CBC’s happiness and well-being columnist, says smiling is beneficial because non-verbal facial cues help people make connections with each other. (Submitted by Jennifer Moss)

Duncan Skeaff thought about the sign wars in Listowel last year, where businesses teased each other in sign form.

“Everybody got a grin out of it,” he said.

He also remembered a personal experience where a workplace dispute led people to be upset with each other, so he and others went out and bought novelty Groucho Marx glasses.

“It’s a little hard to stay angry at somebody who’s coming to your office wearing Groucho glasses, and it just broke the tension and made everybody feel an awful lot better,” Duncan Skeaff said.

Here are some other stories to make you smile:

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