That’s because research shows that facial expressions send feedback from your face to your left frontal cortex, which in turn triggers the release of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine into your brain. These “happiness” chemicals begin to improve your mood.
In addition, smiling increases your charisma. University of California’s psychology professor Howard Friedman has conducted extensive research on the role that body language and nonverbal cues play in our perception of charisma. According to Friedman’s research, charismatic people tend to smile more than the average person, with a distinct crinkling around the eyes that demonstrates the genuine intent of the smile.
And smiles are universally evaluated as friendly. Genuine smiling (that eye-crinkling kind) is a universal human indicator of acceptance, inclusion, and friendliness – regardless of where in the world you are doing business.
Beyond the workplace, smiles retain their positive influence. A 2001 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that women flashing bright, warm smiles in their college yearbook photos reported experiencing less anxiety, sadness and despair 30 years later. In comparison to their more sober-looking classmates, these smiling women had more social connections and more fulfilling lives.
Perhaps best of all, when we smile at someone, they almost always smile back. And, because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back can also change that person’s brain chemistry and emotional state in a positive way.
Very powerful consequences for one small facial expression!
But what about those emoticon smiley faces? Could those possibly have a similar effect?
Surprisingly, research suggests the answer is yes. A study at Australia’s Flinders University found that the pattern of brain activity triggered by looking at an emoticon smiley face is similar to when someone sees a real smiling human face.
Our faces are directly wired into the brain’s emotional centre, and smiling is a form of facial feedback that elevates our moods. I don’t know that flashing a smile at another driver will reduce road rage – but I do know that flashing a genuine smile at a co-worker can brighten up both your days!
Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence. For interview requests, click here.
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