"Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles.”
- George Eliot
Well, I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford any more wrinkles!
I am going to heed Eliot’s advice and plaster a big goofy grin on my face at all times. And you should too! Go on … crinkle those eyes, pull your lips back, and show off those pearly whites!
This is really a win-win situation for us all. Smiling has been shown to have many physical and psychological benefits. One wee little smile can help you get a date for Saturday night, turn that curmudgeon of a boss into mush, or help you reign in your toddlers tantrum!
So, here’s the thing. When we smile, it does wonders for us. It immediately releases endorphins into our brains, which scientists believe can increase energy, reduce stress, and boost the immune system. In fact, these neurotransmitters are often referred to as a “wonder drug” for their ability to relieve pain and stall the aging process. These same endorphins are also released during exercise and sex. Even the consumption of certain foods can help – like chocolate (but we ladies know that already, don’t we).
Let’s just say you are having a bad day at the office. The boss is grouchy, your teammates have hightailed it to happy hour, and you’re stuck finishing up the work of 10 people. Probably that’s enough to make you run screaming for a bar of chocolate, but that causes another set of problems.
Instead, think happy thoughts and pop that cheesy grin. After a few minutes, it’s time for an attitude check. Chances are, now that your face is a little brighter, so is your outlook. This is a great solution for when life prohibits a jog around the block, or a gluttonous overload of chocolate.
Here’s another thing we know about smiling: it’s contagious. No really, it’s true! During confrontation, try smiling. It disarms the aggressor and can have an immediate calming effect on the situation. Why is this?
Known as proprioceptive psychology, this area of study suggests that we can control our emotions, and those of people around us, if we engage in particular behaviors. Several studies have shown that the moods of participants can be affected by engaging them in positive or negative behaviors, such as shaking the head yes or no, smiling or frowning, sitting slumping or straight. Consider these findings:
- Two groups are studied. One is asked to “contract their corrugator muscle” (a.k.a. frown) and the other is instructed to grin. Grinners reported significantly elevated levels of happiness, as opposed to the frowners. (Laird, 2007)
- Participants are asked to view a product zipping along on a computer screen. Half move horizontally, causing the viewer to move their head side-to-side in a “no” fashion to watch. The other half move vertically, with viewers moving their head up-and-down, “yes” style, to view the product. Participants reported being more likely to purchase items that had moved in a vertical fashion, unaware of the difference in movement (Forster, 2004).
- Two groups of participants are enclosed in a room. Half are told to sit upright in their chairs, chests out. The others are instructed to slump in their seats. Then, each participant is given a math test and asked to evaluate their moods. Those sitting upright not only scored higher on the test, they reported being in brighter moods as well (Roberts, 2007).
We know that the smile is the most universally recognized non-verbal sign of happiness, so much so that in all cultures across the globe, it is used. Newborn babies are born with the ability to smile, and will do so voluntarily as early as four weeks old, even earlier in their sleep. A smile can be recognized up to 300 feet away, and it takes far fewer muscles to create than a frown.
A word to the wise though, you must be careful to make your smile a genuine one. It should to involve muscles across your face, including those surrounding the eye and above, and be sure to hold it for a minimum of 15 seconds. An insincere flash won’t do you any favors when it comes across as condescending or manipulative.
A person that smiles more is seen by others as pleasant, sincere and attractive. Not to mention more sociable and secure than a non-grinner.
Put this technique in your daily life and just watch the changes unfold. Bumper-to-bumper traffic bumming you out? Put a pen in your teeth to force those lips to curl back and boost your mood during your morning commute. Cranky co-workers causing unnecessary afternoon stress? Take a break and have a “mirror moment” to pump yourself up.
Smiling is an easy, free mood elevator. It only takes a few seconds and you can do it anywhere you are.
And remember: smiling doesn’t just make you feel great, but others around you will notice your pleasant demeanor and reciprocate. Always put your best face forward –people like happy people and smiles are contagious.
So go ahead and smile. You deserve it!