Ron Gutman reviews a raft of studies about smiling, and reveals some surprising results. Did you know your smile can be a predictor of how long you'll live -- and that a simple smile has a measurable effect on your overall well-being? Prepare to flex a few facial muscles as you learn more about this evolutionarily contagious behavior.
"When you smile you don’t only appear to be more likable and courteous, you appear to be more competent." ~Ron Gutman
Smiling is one of the most basic biological factors within the human condition. We are born smiling and children smile as much as 400 times per day. Children, despite their ability to induce headaches, are very good medicine.
Paul Ekman (the world’s leading expert on facial expressions) discovered that smiles are cross-cultural and have the same meaning in different societies. In studies he conducted in Papua New Guinea, Ekman found that members of the Fore tribe (who were completely disconnected from Western culture and were also known for their unusual cannibalism rituals) attributed smiles to descriptions of situations in the same way you would.
Smiling is not just a universal means of communicating, it’s also a frequent one. More than 30% of us smile more than 20 times a day and less than 14% of us smile less than 5 times a day. In fact, those with the greatest superpowers are actually children, who smile as many as 400 times per day!
Have you ever wondered why being around children who smile frequently makes you smile more often? Two studies from 2002 and 2011 at Uppsala University in Sweden confirmed that other people’s smiles actually suppress the control we usually have over our facial muscles, compelling us to smile. They also showed that it’s very difficult to frown when looking at someone who smiles.
Why? Because smiling is evolutionarily contagious and we have a subconscious innate drive to smile when we see one. This occurs even among strangers when we have no intention to connect or affiliate with the other person. Mimicking a smile and experiencing it physically helps us interpret how genuine a smile is, so that we can understand the real emotional state of the smiler.
In research performed at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in France, subjects were asked to interpret real vs. fake smiles, while holding a pencil in their mouths to repress the muscles that help us smile. Without the pencils in their mouths, subjects were excellent judges, but with the pencils (when they could not mimic the smiles they saw), their judgment was impaired.
If that’s not enough, smiling also makes us look good in the eyes of others. A recent Penn State University study confirmed that when we smile we not only appear more likeable and courteous, but we’re actually perceived to be more competent.
So now we know that:
When you smile, you look good and feel good
When others see you smile, they smile too
When others smile, they look good and feel good too
Perhaps this is why Mother Teresa said: “I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish.” What’s the catch? Only that the smile you give has to be big, and genuine!
In my fascinating journey to uncover more about smiling, I discovered something far greater than just a way to get through a challenging run -- I found a simple and surprisingly powerful way to significantly improve my own life and the lives of others.