Smiling… It’s a gesture that we see and perform countless times a day — perhaps some days more than others. A smile is meant to be a representation of happiness, but it expresses so much more. Sometimes we smile out of politeness. Other times it’s due to nerves, or habit. We smile in humor. Ultimately, a smile is shared between people to make a connection, and this form of human contact is more important and meaningful than we realize.
Today is World Smile Day, celebrated on the first Friday of October for Harvey Ball, who created the iconic Smiley Face. The first World Smile Day was held in 1999 and has continued annually ever since. According to the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation, its goal is to encourage smiles and acts of kindness around the world.
Research done over the course of decades has found a link between people who genuinely smile and happiness later in life. One study from UC Berkeley looked at yearbook pictures from a women’s college in 1958 and 1960. The women who were displaying real smiles in their pictures were more likely to be married five years later, and more likely to be satisfied in their marriage 20 years later. Furthermore, a similar study at Wayne State University discovered that baseball players who smiled bigger in their pictures tended to live longer — an average of 72.9 years for non-smiling players, and 79.9 for those with game-winning smiles!
It has also been proven that just the act of smiling can boost our happiness. In a 2009 study at Echnische Universtat in Munich, Germany, researchers took MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) of the brain both before and after injecting botox to prevent the use of smiling muscles. They concluded that smiling activates neural processing in the brain that affects our emotions; even imitating a smile can send happy signals to our brain. This is supported by the Facial Feedback Response Theory of Charles Darwin.
The small smile you shared with your barista this morning may have communicated more than you thought; we are evolutionarily wired to feel the urge to smile back at someone who is smiling. It’s contagious. And when we mimic the smile of another person, it actually helps us determine how genuine their smile is, and the state of their emotions.
“I will never understand all the good that a smile can accomplish,” Mother Teresa said.
What’s the mark of a good (or bad) first impression? Most of us are told that a firm, strong handshake is the key to a successful impression. While that may be correct, the true first impression you make is through the expression on your face. A recent Penn State University study shows that when we smile, we are perceived as more courteous, likable, and competent. We are also generally seen as more attractive.
A SMILE HAS THE POWER TO . . .
- Help you lead a longer, happier life.
- Instantly improve your mood.
- Communicate with a stranger.
- Make you appear more friendly and attractive.
Of course, no one can smile all the time. But keeping this useful tool in mind can serve us at any point in the day; when we meet someone new, walk past a colleague, or just feel like it. Happy smiling!
Andy. “The Power of a Smile: Social Psychology and Health.” Social Psych Online, 2 May 2017, socialpsychonline.com/2017/05/smile-psychology-science/.
Savitz, Eric. “The Untapped Power Of Smiling.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 10 Aug. 2011, www.forbes.com/sites/ericsavitz/2011/03/22/the-untapped-power-of-smiling/#619601287a67.