Smile and the world smiles back


It’s rare that I’m among the first boarding group on any flight.  I’m unlucky that way: Usually, no matter how early I try to check in, I end up towards the back of an airplane.  I’ve gotten used to it and it’s usually a short wait in between sitting down and taking off.  But there was one time where my wife and I actually got to board with the first group.  We sat in the very first two seats of the plane.  Longer wait, though…

To pass the time, we decided to do a social experiment.  I would watch people walk in and try to guess if she smiled at them as they entered the plane.  One by one people entered and I’d say “you smiled or you didn’t smile.”  With maybe a couple of exceptions, I was always right.  Whenever she smiled at someone, almost every time, he or she smiled back.  I thought it was pretty cool and since then, we’ve done the same experiment in other places and the results are always the same as they were that day on the plane.

I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet that somehow those who smiled back actually felt better.  Several studies over the years (google: “smiling improves mood” to see for yourself) have shown that smiling actually has a positive physiological response.   One study even said that smiling when exercising can actually improve performance.  So I tried it.

After running for three miles on one of my usual routes, there’s a steep uphill climb.  I usually slow down and shorten my strides so that I can have enough strength to make it all the way up without having to walk.  My pace slows to a near walk, but I do make it up the hill.  The day I tried the “smiling thing,” I was tired, as I usually am, but I smiled the whole way up the hill.  Maybe it was the placebo effect, but my pace did not slow as much as usual.  Plus, I actually ran a bit further that day.  Now, when I feel myself tiring, I force a smile and I can usually push through the fatigue.

The opposite, though is also true: Frowns have negative impact on moods.  In these facial expression studies, people who had a neutral to good mood reported having a bad mood when either being exposed to frowns or to frowning themselves.  Turns out, if we want someone to feel good, we should smile.  If we approach people with frowns, chances are, they’re going to feel worse than they did before they saw us frown.

To me, it seems simple: Smile and you’ll feel better.  As is usually the case, my wife seemed to know it all along….