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Carol Kinsey GomanSmiles have a powerful effect on all of us. The human brain prefers happy faces, recognizing them more quickly than those with negative expressions. Smiles are such an important part of communication that we spot a smile at 90 meters – the length of a football field.

Smiles can also be your secret to success. Here are five reasons to activate your smile power:

1. You’ll feel better – even if you fake it

We all use the fake smile in business settings when we don’t really feel an emotional closeness to those around us; the real smile is reserved for those we truly care about. And we’ve had a lot of practice doing this. We’ve been displaying both real and fake smiles all of our lives. A fake smile is easy to produce. It takes only one set of muscles to stretch the lip corners sideways and create a grin.

There’s no doubt that the “best” smiles are genuine. They light up your face, crinkle the corners of your eyes and produces positive physiological changes in your body temperature and heart rate. But consider research findings that even if the smile is mechanically produced, positive feelings still emerge. This study matched samples of people looking at cartoons. The first group ranked every cartoon as funnier than the second group. The only difference is that members of the first group were asked to hold a pencil crosswise between their back teeth. The simulated smile caused by the pencil between their teeth effected their emotion – and their perception of the cartoons as funnier.

2. You’ll be unforgettable

Why do some people make a lasting impression while others are quite forgettable? The answer may be in their smile.

Research from Duke University proves that we like and remember those who smile at us – and shows why we find them more memorable. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the Duke researchers found that the orbitofrontal cortices (a “reward centre” in the brain) were more active when subjects were learning and recalling the names of smiling individuals.

3. You’ll encourage collaboration

No one, regardless of how intelligent he or she may be, can succeed alone. We all need the knowledge and ideas of others. You know that. But did your know that by merely smiling or frowning you can influence how a speaker reports information and how it is subsequently remembered, and possibly passed on?

According to research conducted reported by the British Psychological Society, positive and negative emotional responses systematically alter the use of language. Speak to a positive listener and people will likely use more abstractions and subjective impressions. But if people talk to a negative listener, they’ll probably stick to the relative security of objective facts and concrete details.

Researchers speculate that this is because the smiles and nods of a positive listener are interpreted as a sign of agreement and understanding, encouraging the speaker to provide more of their own opinions and speculations. By contrast, negative listeners provoke speakers to adopt a more hesitant and cautious thinking style.

4. You’ll improve your productivity

Charles Garfield, the author of Peak Performance, once coached the Russian Olympic weight-lifting team. Garfield noticed that when team members lifted to exhaustion, they would invariably grimace at the painful effort. In an experiment, he encouraged the athletes to smile when they got to that point of exhaustion. This seemingly minor difference enabled them to add two to three more reps to their performance.

No matter the task, when you grimace or frown while doing it, you are sending your brain the message, “This is really difficult. I should stop.”  The brain then responds by sending stress chemicals into your bloodstream. And this creates a vicious circle: the more stressed you are, the more difficult the task becomes.

When you smile, your brain gets the message, “It’s not so bad. I can do this!”

5. You’ll positively contaminate others

Some nonverbal behaviours can bring out the best in people. Smiling is one of them, as it directly influences how other people respond. When you smile at someone, they almost always smile in return. And, because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back actually changes that person’s emotional state in a positive way.

Maybe that’s why a DePauw University study found that people whose smiles were weakest in snapshots from childhood through young adulthood were most likely to be divorced in middle or old age. (one in four compared to one in 20 for the widest smilers.)

And if you ever go to trial, keep this in mind: Although courtroom judges are equally likely to find smilers and non-smilers guilty, they tend to give smilers lighter penalties, a phenomenon called the “smile-leniency effect.”

Want to brighten your mood, make a lasting impression, encourage collaboration, lighten your work load, and positively influence others? Then smile – really smile. Think of someone who genuinely amuses or delights you. But if you can’t do that, then fake it … or hold a pencil in your mouth.

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.

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