The Power of a Smile

by Tammy Strobel on November 15, 2010

Everyday I walk to yoga and pass by our neighborhood Starbucks. As I was strolling by last week, I happened to look in the window. There were about 5 kids sitting at the counter, sipping hot beverages, and watching people pass by. The kids were probably 7 or 8 years old and they were super cute.

The moment I looked up all of the kids waived at me and smiled, in unison. It looked like there was a supervising adult with the kids. As soon as she saw the kids smiling and waving she started laughing and smiling too. Before I knew it I had a huge goofy grin on my face.

The kids started a cascade of smiling!

This was a small moment that lasted for about 10 seconds. But those short seconds reminded me that smiling is a powerful act. Before the kids smiled at me, I was in my own little world thinking about writing and the upcoming week. All this thinking and worrying made me feel stressed out and overwhelmed.

Generally, when I take short or longs walks I try and be in the moment, smile, and notice the details, like all the brilliant fall colors. However, on this day I wasn’t present. I was imagining the future and thinking about the past. The kids in Starbucks reminded me to slow down, enjoy the present moment, and to smile more often.

So what does research tell us about smiling?

Decades of research has established that smiling and laughter boost our well-being, reduce anxiety and stress, and enable us to cope with good and bad situations.

Interestingly, research has shown that facial expressions can influence your emotions. For instance, the act of smiling can make you happier, even if it’s a fake smile. In The How of Happiness, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky discussed a number of fascinating studies about smiling. One study showed that “mothers who express positive emotions have infants who begin to express positive emotions as well.”

Other studies have shown that “the facial changes involved in smiling have direct effects on certain brain activities associated with happiness.”

So just do it. Start smiling and laughing more. By acting like you’re more optimistic and outgoing, you’ll be able to manage stress and become a happier person.

Micro-actions: Read The How of Happiness and The Politics of Happiness – A Manifesto.

1 Lisa @ simplifying the simple life November 15, 2010

I do Bikram yoga – the kind that is 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees. When it starts to get brutal, one of my favorite teachers likes to say “Smile! It’s just yoga.” And when I do, I swear it makes such a difference to my whole body. Not to mention my mind. Thanks for the reminder that it works in other places, too!

2 Rebecca November 15, 2010

That picture made me smile! What a cutie! Thank you for your blog, Tammy, I look forward to it every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. God Bless!!

3 Peter Ahrens November 15, 2010

When I do fake smiles and bulging eyes that makes my fiancé laugh, which makes me laugh :D

4 Jason November 15, 2010

I’ve used a similar technique when I’m feeling down or lazy. I do jumping jacks or run around the area like a freaking maniac. I usually forget about the smiling part, as the sudden burst of movement and blood pumping through my veins, does the trick.

Physiology is important, and smiling most of all. Here’s some practice: :)

5 Chase Night November 15, 2010

This is so true. I am trying to deliberately change the state of my face at rest into a smile. Or at least a look of mild contentment and peace. My girlfriend says that when I am thinking I look like a Nazi. She gets nervous that I am angry with her, and tells me other people probably think I’m angry with them too. But I’m usually not angry! I’m usually just deep in thought, which produces the furrowed brow and pursed lips of discontent. So I’m practicing being more mindful of what I do with my face when I’m alone with my thoughts. And looking around, I notice that a lot of people need to work on this too! I feel sad when I see someone frowning as we pass on the street, but when I catch someone in a moment smiling to themselves I have to smile back.

6 Tami November 15, 2010

I’ve recently started trying to smile more…for these exact reasons. So far, I’ve gotten a lot of “oh, ok, what are you scheming” and “you are up to something, I just KNOW it!”….but I am going to keep on trying! Smiling at strangers is much more easy than smiling at coworkers who know you! LMAO :D

7 Colleen November 15, 2010

Hi Tammy! Great to finally be reading your work. From the mat to the computer; interesting transition. Anyway, I LOVE this post, and I think about this stuff all the time. Have you read Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence? It has a fantastic section on our mirror neurons, which are triggered by the emotions of others. We are genetically wired to work and play in groups. As a species, we need to understand the slightest facial shifts in those around us, so that when a predator shows up, the whole group knows what to do.

From a neurological perspective, Goleman explains, happiness is literally contagious. We can effect change just by smiling when we walk down the street to grab lunch. Actually, this is one of my ongoing personal sociology experiments– I try to smile at everypne I pass. Believe me, noticing each person’s reaction is fascinating. Most smile back automatically, without thinking. Another portion seem confused– why would I be breaking the social trance to smile? And yet another, most intriguing group just SCOWLS back. Those are the ones that need my smile the most, I think. Thanks for this reminder to notice what emotional energy we’re emitting. :)

8 Lisa Fine - lisasfoods November 15, 2010

This is so right. I’ve been reading The Happiness Project – it had been on my “to-read” list for ages, and was finally available at the library – and love how Gretchen talks about the importance of smiling too.

It makes me think about the advice given by many job coaches: whenever you answer the phone to speak to a potential employer, smile. They’ll be able to feel it through the phone. It’s such a simple way to improve your own and others’ moods.

9 Deb November 15, 2010

Sometimes getting minimal takes a lot of work. We’re currently in the painting process in order to sell the house to fund a more minimal life. I started off with a smile but by the end of the day I had a grimace on my face. I think it’s important if we’re not smiling to ask why and adjust the day accordingly. Today I will not be pushing myself so hard.

10 Lisa November 15, 2010

I’m at the age where wrinkles are inevitable, but I can choose which type I’d prefer- frown lines or laugh lines. Guess which I’ve picked??? ;-)

11 Stanley Lee November 15, 2010

It’s typically trivial on the difficulty of smiling for adults compared to children. Perhaps more thoughts on relaxation as a stimulant of smiling would be nice. My $0.02 anyway on this timely post.

12 Manu November 15, 2010

Hi Tammy!
I often smile when I look at myself in the mirror brushing my teeth in the morning. Playing goofy really helps me to get in a good mood for the day.

13 Carriann November 15, 2010

What a powerful reminder and a great message to start a Monday morning. I am going to smile all day!

14 Melyssa November 15, 2010

Apparently I smile without even knowing it. That’s what people tell me anyway.

But I often wonder why people don’t smile. I had a boss who aged fast because he didn’t smile.

And I crossed paths with this lady in my neighborhood and decided to give a smile and greet her.
She just gave me an irritated look. WOW!

15 Faith @ Minimalist Moms November 15, 2010

Thanks. What a great reminder. It made me think of that infamous YouTube video of the mom with the laughing quadruplets. Contagious smiles and contagious laughter. :)

16 Chris @ Pursuit of Less November 15, 2010

Great post Tammy! Its pretty hard to beat a kids smile and their carefree nature : ) Smiling, like laughter, is often contagious and I can personally attest to feeling happier after smiling. I find it interesting that even a fake smile makes us feel happier. Anyway, keep up the great work. Your post and picture definitely made me smile : )

17 Daisy November 15, 2010

Kids have a way of pulling us back down to earth, and the immediate moment. And most of the time, the immediate moment is pretty darn good.

18 edgar November 15, 2010

Smile transforms a face, a place, a day into something called splendor.

19 treasure September 2, 2011

smile gives a worm glow in your heart so keep smilling

20 Tammy November 16, 2010

Thanks for all the amazing comments peeps! You rock!

21 Susan November 16, 2010

I love this. It also reminds me of how studies have been done that if you smile long enough, even forced, your mind will respond. I’ve done this and in less than 10 minutes my mood has completely shifted.

Kids are great neutralizers for bad moods. All I have to do is hang out with my friends’ baby and I’m instantly at peace. It also helps they have a chocolate lab on hand :-)

22 JamesDavid November 16, 2010

Very nice story Rowdy. A few decades ago I worked at Walt Disney World as a soda fountain man in the Park on Main Street. It was a hot summer day and a heavy rain started, as it often does in Florida. My soda fountain was under a covering that soon sheltered about fifty tightly packed people from the rain. We all were hot and wet, and the guests were losing valuable time in the park. As you might imagine, this made for quite a few not-so-happy folks. After a few minutes someone stared laughing – a big belly laugh. This led to another person laughing, then another, and before long everyone, including myself, was laughing very hard but no one had any idea why. After it stopped raining and the guests were off to their adventures, I discovered that one of the kids had something called a laughing bag (a simple bag with a string that you pulled to make it laugh). Of course this is what led to fifty kids and parents laughing hysterically for no apparent reason. I venture to say that most everyone there will remember this forever.

23 Tammy November 17, 2010

@JamesDavid – Now that is an awesome story. Thanks for sharing. It made me smile. :)

24 Brenda November 17, 2010

My husband and I were walking through our neighborhood on Saturday to look at the beautiful fall leaves. We came upon 3 “tweenagers” who had raked a huge pile of leaves to the curb. They called to us, “are you jealous of our leaf pile? Are you?” and then jumped into the leaves. It was great. We smiled the whole way home.

25 Ashley November 21, 2010

very interesting how a “fake” smile can make you happy. lol hmmm. :)

BTW: I really enjoy your blog Tammy! I also love the unique name “Rowdy Kittens”. The name really got my attention, and keeps me coming back.

26 Brian Graves January 9, 2011

Rachel Berg always makes me smile, thank you tammy

27 Brian Graves January 9, 2011

You are my inspiration .. sometimes i feel so sad… And just reading these brightens my day, thank you soo Tammy, we should really meet up sometime, get a cup of coffee :) i love to smile

28 Brian Graves January 9, 2011

(I am smiling right now) Just the name Rowdy Kittens brightens my day >:O

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