Recently I was going through the check out in a local business, I was mulling over what a terrible day it had been. I am positive that I had an unhappy look on my face.
I was caught by surprise when the teller smiled and me and asked in a very cheerful tone of voice, “How’s your day going?”
I found myself instantly smiling back and said “Pretty good”. I have to admit that her smile had actually made me feel much better.
The smile is a powerful took in life. A powerful nonverbal communication tool. It is nearly impossible to not smile back at someone who has smiled at you. And the feeling of that shared smile is amazing. It got me to think about how I interact with those around me on a daily basis. At Daughter On Call we work every day with clients living with a dementia. Some of them can be grumpy, moody or even downright hostile. And the best thing to combat those characteristics is a smile accompanied by a cheerful attitude. With some people it can take time before they return your smile, but you need to continue doing it until you are rewarded by those pearly whites. I once had a client who I will call “Frank”; Frank was not a happy 84 year old when I met him, he never smiled, laughed or was even slightly pleasant to be around. Working with Frank was difficult; I would often walk into his home nervous, wondering what he was going to be grumping about today. The more nervous I was, the more it showed on my face; and the more it showed on my face, the less likely I was going to get any cooperation out of Frank.
One day I stumbled across an article that stated “the act of smiling can dramatically improve one’s mood”. That got me to thinking that maybe I could endure those long hours with Frank if I smiled and improved my mood. So the next day I walked into Frank’s smiling ear to ear. He cursed at me, I smiled. He threw his urinal at me, I smiled. He told me to ‘get the hell out of his room’ and I still smiled. Then I noticed something – Frank had a smirk on his face. Aha, I thought, maybe there was something to ‘the act of smiling’. Every day I went to Frank’s house, with the biggest smile on my face possible. Every day I saw Frank ease up on his cursing and grumpiness. I saw a few smirks, an occasional half smile, and at the end of 3 weeks of smiling so hard that my cheeks hurt, Frank actually broke out into a big toothy smile! I was elated and laughed with glee. I stated “ha, you can smile, imagine that!” At that point Frank burst out laughing, and told me he was tired of me being so happy all the time. The ice was broke; I had my in with Frank. From then on, my smile enticed him to do all the things he had previously refused to do. Showering, shaving, going for walks were now getting done, and with a smile on his face even! I asked him why he was smiling so much one day, his reply was “I can’t help myself, you look so happy it makes me smile!”
Dr. David Beals, co-author of “Emotional healing for Dummies” found that “Smiling causes a release of endorphins, your body’s natural pain-relieving and feel-good hormones.” Research has also discovered that being smiled at has positive effects that increase happiness both in yourself and those around you.
Positive Psychology News Daily published an article entitled “Smile and Others Smile With You: Health Benefits, Emotional Contagion and Mimicry.” It reviews 10 scientific studies on the benefits of smile for the person being smiled at. The article reports the following findings of the various studies:
- When you smile at someone, their muscles maneuver into a smile as well.
- This process is also known as emotional contagion. That is, emotions are contagious. Feeling food is infectious.
- Mimicking a person’s bodily state or facial expression causes physical responses in the receiver’s body that are identical to those in the sender’s.
- If you mimic another person’s smile…your body will release serotonin, dopamine and other “feel good” indicators.
- Frequent smiling has many therapeutic and health benefits
- Smiling boosts the immune system.
- Smiling increases positive affect.
- Smiling reduces blood pressure.
So it only makes common sense to smile at those around you. There is scientific evidence that it will make the person feel better and also improve your sense of wellbeing. I challenge you to put your best smile on; and see how quickly it is returned by others. Now that’s a win-win situation.