Smile and Change the World

From a sign in a store window: “Let Your Smile Change the World. Don’t Let the World Change Your Smile.” A sage piece of advice, but not always so easy to do.

If you are like a lot of folks, the alarm goes off and the first thing you get bombarded with is the news of the day. Whether it’s natural disasters, like earthquake or hurricane damage, political infighting or the traffic and weather report that makes your upcoming commute akin to a nightmare, starting the day with a smile is going to be a bit of a challenge. It would be easy to let the world change your smile.

In his 2006 best seller, “Stumbling on Happiness,” Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert surveyed the research on the subject of happiness, and revealed some of the mistakes we make in imagining how happy – or not – we believe we will be. Among his illuminations is the fact that human beings seem to be happiest when faced with a challenge. It’s why organizations succeed best when employees work toward goals that are difficult, but not out of reach. (See research on goal-setting from Dr. Gary Latham, University of Toronto.)

Surprisingly, it isn’t the intensity of positive experiences that predicts happiness; it is the frequency of those experiences. Someone who has a dozen average nice things happen is likely to be happier than someone who had one intense happy event. This is where the smile effect comes in. We can create those average nice things ourselves, and the initiator can be that smile.

For today, let’s try a small scientific experiment: As you are walking down the street, in the office, in the grocery store or on the plant floor, smile at those coming your way. Then note what you get back. It’s almost a sure bet that you will get a smile in return, nearly every time.

As Professor Gilbert remarked, “Science will soon be able to tell us how to live the lives we want, but it will never tell us what kinds of lives we should want to live. That will be for us to decide.” So, go ahead, make the decision and face the day with a smile. You’ll be happier for it.