Resting face; engaged face

Recently, my adult daughter asked me, “Dad are you mad at me?” I was surprised at her question. “Of course not,” I replied, “what makes you think I’m upset?” She said, “I’m just having a hard time reading your silence and your facial expression.”

I then realized that I was displaying my “resting face,” which is, at best, difficult to read, and at worst foreboding and unfriendly. 

Some definitions will help:

Resting face – the way your face looks when you are at ease, with facial muscles relaxed. 

Engaged face – the way your face looks when you are consciously manipulating your face to appear more engaged, approachable, and friendly. I’ve also heard this called a “yes face.”

To display an engaged face, raise the eyebrows, open up the eyes, smile, and raise the forehead.

To exhibit a resting face, do nothing. 

I constantly hound my adult choir about this, reminding them that during performance their resting face is inadequate. If we’re singing a joyful text we need to look joyful. Actually, regardless of the message we’re singing, a resting face is lacking; it’s boring and unconvincing. 

I have a friend who constantly bears a pleasant expression. I asked him how he managed to maintain such an agreeable and inviting countenance. He said that it was a habit he consciously developed through the years. Now it is his default setting.

We must learn when we need to “change masks.” When I’m alone, my resting face will suffice, but when I’m in public and especially when people are looking at me, I should perk up my countenance. 

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10 thoughts on “Resting face; engaged face

  1. Thank you for a good reminder of how important our outward expression is … it is, after all, another way to show the joy that God implants in our hearts & minds. An especially good reminder for ALL CHOIR MEMBERS EVERYWHERE!!!

  2. Is our facial expression, like the clothes we wear, something that we can/should decide on?
    Or is our natural facial expression an honest statement of who we are, the way we feel, our truthful response to the world? If the latter, then should we try to disguise our true selves, make a statement to the world that does not reflect our truth? I’m not sure. I know that many a time I feigned interest in my preschoolers drawings and stories, and I have pretended to be interested in what many parishioners were telling me when I really wanted to go home.
    But should I try to tell the world I am happy if I am depressed? Or that I am doing fine when I am angry? Or should I allow my face to be honest spokesperson for me?

    • Woody, you touch on some good points. I just think that as a default setting, it would be good for all of us to brighten up our face. Particularly when we’re in a “typical” social environment. When we’re at a funeral, an engaged face may be inappropriate.
      Thanks for writing.
      don

  3. If someone is sharing a painful experience, it is appropriate to show your concern and a wide grin might look as if you were not appreciating their situation. Does the speaker recognise empathy in your facial expression as well as in the words you speak? Equally, if you are speaking on the telephone, your tone of voice can express joy, boredom, irritation, etc. Our resting face is maybe the face we keep for our family as we don’t feel under pressure to impress or create a particular atmosphere.

    • Angela, you address some interesting issues. I don’t think an “engaged face” must always be a smile, and, occasionally a “resting face” is adequate, even preferred (your example of responding to someone who has had a painful experience is a good example). Don

  4. Don, this one is dead on for me. I have subconsciously considered this pattern, but I will never, I hope, be the same! It helps me to be alert to the Lord’s joy, and that He really wants us to enjoy His path for us with that joy!

    Also, btw, when I clicked on the email page for the pdf, it promptly sent me to the unsubscribe page! Almost didn’t see it, but caught it!

    I will continue, with your grace and gifting for my thinking, communicating more frequently when I can, with my “interested-in-you face!”

    Oh, along this line, I am even having my eyebrows trimmed closer, to reduce a glower potential! This is crazy stuff, Don! Good and crazy!

    • Bill, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ll check on the errant link.
      Relative to an engaged face, I’m trying to make that my default setting when I’m in public; it will take months or years to get it ingrained.
      Thanks for our friendship. Don

    • Ion, I think I coined the term “resting face” but I might have inadvertently plagiarized it. Take care, Don