What if I told you that we all possess this amazing gift which promotes health, happiness, and all around good vibes in yourself and others? This powerful tool is something all too forgotten and often overlooked. This magic power I speak of is….(drum roll please)…YOUR SMILE. It is beautiful, unique, and it’s all yours. The positivity it radiates is undeniable. I want to share a paper I wrote a while back for my Interpersonal Communications class. It discusses the importance of smiling and a few little experiments I tested along the way. Hope this is a reminder that you’re never fully dressed without a smile!
When You’re Smiling
“When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you”. Have you ever considered the meaning behind the lyrics while listening to this original Louis Armstrong tune? Well, as it turns out, there is actually scientific proof to the song. Smiling is an essential part of nonverbal communication. A smile is immensely powerful and has the ability to speak ten times louder than any form of verbal communication. A simple forming of your lips can alter yours or someone else’s day tremendously. “Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain. The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness.” (1) Smiling has been proven to benefit your health, happiness, and all around general well-being, not to mention boost your communication skills.
Smiling and nonverbal communication shape most of our social interactions. “Within the realm of non-verbal communication, LaFrance (author of Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex, and Politics) and other social psychologists have focused their studies on smiling because it is one of the most revealing yet overlooked aspects of our lives. In modern culture, LaFrance asserts that the main purpose of smiling is to form, sustain, and repair interpersonal relationships.” (2) In other words, smiling helps us connect. We need and rely on that connection to form substantial relationships. Giving someone a friendly grin shows your willingness to let them in and perhaps give them a glimpse into your own little world. Smiling promotes positivity, trust, and openness. When you smile, you’re not only viewed as more attractive, but also more reliable, relaxed, and sincere. This will build trust and create a positive environment to communicate. Smiling makes you appear more engaging and confident, resulting in others wanting to be around you, hear what you have to say, and value your ideas. Smiles send the message that an individual is content, friendly, and nonthreatening. “People displaying smiles of enjoyment have been judged by others as extraverted, emotionally stable, agreeable, sociable, pleasant, likable, and intelligent.” (3)
As previously mentioned, a smile is certainly infectious. It triggers happiness, not only in yourself, but in others. You could actually change someone’s life with a happy expression. Dr. Ronald E. Riggio explains that, “Looking at the bigger picture, each time you smile at a person, their brain coaxes them to return the favor. You are creating a symbiotic relationship that allows both of you to release feel good chemicals in your brain, activate reward centers, make you both more attractive and increase the chances of you both living longer, healthier lives.” (1) If you’re beginning to think a smile gives you super human strength, I can assure you that you’re most certainly right.
The social impact of smiling in our interpersonal relationships is undeniable, whether it be at home, in the workplace, or just in everyday life. The effects of a smile actually caught my interest about two years ago, so when it came time to choose a topic for this term paper, I knew right away which direction I wanted to take. I am originally from the South, where basically everyone you meet gives you a huge smile and invites you over for dinner. When I moved to New York City about ten years ago, I couldn’t believe that no one smiled as they hurriedly walked by on the street. Then as time went on, I realized that everyone was just in a rush to get to where they were going. People don’t have time to flash a grin as the scurry by-or do they?
On my own accord, again roughly two years ago, I wanted to test this theory out for myself. I wanted to see just how far a quick smile would get me and what type of reaction I would receive. As I walked through Manhattan, and in and out of the subway stations, I flashed my pearly whites at as many passersby as a I could. Mind you, this was no easy task as there are a lot of people here in our great city. My reactions were mixed, but one thing was certain, it made me feel really good. I felt as if I was generating tons of positive energy. As I have researched this topic, evidence has proved that I really was. As far as feedback from others, there was shock, weird looks, flirtatious smirks, genuine smiles, and no acknowledgement whatsoever. Those genuine smiles made it worthwhile. When I returned home from my long day of smiles, I explained to my partner what I had been experimenting. He thought I was crazy. Because I am a woman, and let’s face it, there are a fair number of weirdos out there, he was worried someone might mistake my smile for an advance, which could have gotten
me hurt in some way. Luckily, this did not happen. In hindsight, he was right to worry. To me, that is terribly sad. We all possess this amazing super power to positively affect others, but unfortunately, some don’t take it the way we intend.
For my second, more recent experiment, I decided to test out “smiling” with my close friends. As a prerequisite, I should probably mention that my friends and I have a tendency to complain…a lot. Whether it’s about parenthood, work, spouses, whatever- when we get together, we vent. During one of our get-togethers at a local coffee shop, I walked in with a huge grin on my face. All of them looked at me like I had three heads. One of them asked, “What’s got you in such a jolly mood”, in a bit of a sarcastic tone. I simply shrugged my shoulders and continued to radiate positivity with my smile. As in my earlier experiment, I already felt better during our interaction. I actually didn’t feel like complaining. The easy act of smiling made me feel too good to waste time on anything negative. As our conversations carried on, another friend asked me if I’d been losing weight. I had not. In my opinion, my smile was making me look more attractive. The weight loss inquiry was probably my friend’s way of trying to put her finger on what was making me look so much better. Questions similar to this continued to emerge: Was I going to yoga more? Did my partner do something wonderful and amazing? Had my daughter finally grown out of her “threenager” phase? Was I wearing a new outfit? Nope. My response consistently stayed the same. In fact, the real answer was literally right in front of their face. All it took was me smiling to seem as if I were happier, healthier, and glowing somehow. The truth is, smiling actually did make me feel all of those things.
My final experiment was conducted in a school setting during one of my Small Groups classes. At the beginning of the semester, we are assigned to a group whom we work with through the entirety of the course. I decided to test out the opposite approach of this technique within my group. I wanted to find out what would happen if I did not smile at all. Initially, I was a bit hesitant. I didn’t want my group to assume I was an angry person in any way, but at this point, we had worked together long enough for them to hopefully know that is not me. When our group formed, we began our usual discussion, except this time I kept my mouth shut. Furthermore, when another member made a comment, instead of smiling and nodding in recognition, I frowned and gave a slight eye roll. Right away, the other members in my group started to shift around in their seats. I immediately felt the tension. It was obvious they were feeling uncomfortable by my negativity. This went on for another few minutes before a group member finally asked if everything was ok with me. I mumbled, “I’m fine,” and followed my response with another grimace. Before I knew it, each group member began to ignore me. They were cutting me out of the conversation all together. Our group has been close and very friendly from the get go. It was painfully apparent that they were not allowing this type of toxic behavior into our circle. Not a single word was spoken to me for 20 minutes! I couldn’t stand it. It was eating me up thinking I was being shut out. Eventually, I had to blow my own cover. I explained my experiment to them and their responses varied. The majority laughed it off in relief. Two others expressed that they had genuinely been worried something terrible had happened to me, causing me to behave in such a way. Because I am generally sunny and pleasant, my actions that day had definitely thrown them for a loop.
In conclusion, researching this paper and conducting these experiments has taught me a valuable lesson. That lesson is to smile! A smile is scientifically proven to promote positivity within yourself and others. A smile can alter people’s perceptions of you in an incredible way. A smile can do wonders for your health and happiness. It allows others to know you are willing to let them in. This is an easy and instrumental way to enhance any form of communication and any type of relationship. Smiling at the barista at the coffee shop in the morning can change both of your days for the better. Smiling at work can enhance your leadership skills due to people’s natural instinct to trust and follow a happy individual. Smiling is contagious and others want to surround themselves with pleasant, jubilant people. A smile truly is worth a thousand words. Now that I understand the effects a simple smile can produce, it is something I will do my best to never leave home without. Once more, “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”
1) Riggio, Ronald E. “There’s Magic In Your Smile.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 25 June 2012, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201206/there-s-magic-in-your-smile.
2) Patel-Wilson, Terin. “The Subtle Smile.” Yale Scientific Magazine, 18 Mar. 2012, http://www.yalescientific.org/2012/03/the-subtle-smile-the-effect-of-smiling-and-other-non-verbal-gestures-on-gender-roles/.
3) Borkenau, P., & Liebler, A. (1992). Trait inferences: Sources of validity at zero acquaintance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 645-657.