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The Power of a Smile

Have you ever heard the old adage, “It takes more muscles to frown than to smile”? I’ve learned recently that claim depends a lot on definitions and perspectives, but let’s just take it at face value for now (pun intended). The adage is generally used to try to encourage people to smile, as – according to the adage – it’s so much easier than frowning.

Doing things merely because of their simpleness or ease never gained much traction with me as being desired activities, so perhaps I can offer another reason to smile.

Let’s first consider what a smile can do for those at which it is directed. Smiles can have a very positive impact on those who see them. From babies to adults, smiles breed smiles. Smiles can encourage those who are hesitant, comfort those who are worried, calm those who are afraid, and extend a hand of friendship to the friendless. A simple action like a smile can have a large effect on many people – except when it doesn’t.

I know it sounds like I’m arguing against myself here but hear me out. Sometimes, not often, smiles don’t have the desired effect. From babies to adults, not all smiles are returned or appreciated. My young daughter does not appreciate any attention from strangers, smile or not, and will usually set to crying if one tries to talk to her. Some of my other young children will get quite angry if you try to smile at them when they are already frustrated. They don’t want to be happy. They want to let you know how angry they are.

Babies and children aside, have you ever heard someone complain about someone else being, “just too happy”? I’ve heard that a surprising number of times. I’ve even heard one individual tell another to “stop smiling so much, life isn’t that good.” It is quite negative, I know, but sometimes very jovial people cause annoyance in others when they feel they can’t share that same level of happiness.

I’m not arguing against smiling here. Please, continue to smile and light the world. I’m sharing these examples because I want to get past doing things based on the results we may see in other people. Everyone has the freedom to choose how they react to a smile and, while usually positive, sometimes the responses aren’t overly encouraging. Just come and say a friendly hello to my daughter to see what I mean…

Instead of smiling because of the influence it may have on others, consider for a moment what it might do for you. How do you change because you decided to smile when maybe you otherwise wouldn’t? Let me share an example that may help to clarify what I’m talking about.

I consider myself to be a reasonably positive person. Perhaps not overly happy but certainly quite silly and generally more positive than negative. Unfortunately, there are times when that positive message doesn’t make it to my face. I’ve had a bad habit my entire life of wearing more of a frown than a smile as a general rule. I work on a computer a lot and I’ve had people ask me if I’m angry while I’m working. Normally, no. Maybe a little bored… but not angry. That’s not the message my face gives. I’ve also noticed as I walk through stores or in most public places, my face carries more of a frown than it does a smile.

Obviously, this can influence those who see me. They may not think I’m very friendly, or that I’m angry, or any number of things. More than that though, I’ve noticed that it has an effect on me. And I’ve only noticed it as I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to smile more.

This is best illustrated by an experience I had at the local home improvement store. I had gone there hoping to be able to quickly pick up a few things and get back to work on a project at home. One thing I needed was to have a sheet of plywood cut in half (otherwise, it wouldn’t fit in my vehicle). I had been working on consciously smiling more and today wasn’t any different. I tried to smile at other patrons or employees as I passed as I am trying to make that a habit. I quickly saw that there wasn’t an employee at the saw, so I went and grabbed the other things I needed and then came back to the saw. There still wasn’t anyone there so I started wandering around trying to find someone. I eventually found an employee who worked the saw, but he wasn’t able to help me right away as he was helping a different patron. He did tell me he would be there shortly. Thinking he would be there quickly, I wandered back to the saw to wait for him. 20 minutes later, I was still waiting. This had turned out to be not such a quick trip. As I waited for him to come, it suddenly occurred to me that I wasn’t angry or frustrated at the wait. I had a project to work on, but I was calm enough to see that it wasn’t necessary that I get back to work on it right away. As I thought about that, I realized that I was smiling to myself, and everything seemed to click. Smiling didn’t just have a power on those who see it. It has a power on those who give it, and it probably is a more profound power for them than for those who receive it.

When the employee was finally able to come, he apologized for the wait and mentioned how crazy a day it was for him. While he was helping me, he was called away three separate times by other employees in the store, reinforcing what he’d told me. I was grateful that I was smiling. I thanked him for his help and told him not to worry about the wait. I hope that my attitude or words had a positive impact on his day, but I know they had a positive impact on my own.

I could have been really annoyed at having to wait that long when I thought everything was going to be faster. My annoyance might have bubbled to anger. I might then have said something I regretted to him. Maybe that attitude would go with me out to my car. There always seems to be opportunities to be angry with someone when you’re driving. Maybe that attitude would go all the way back home with me and I would be unkind to my family.

I was spared from all of that because I smiled. I’ve found my capacity to endure annoyance, and even more serious adversity, is greatly expanded when I smile. I find myself far less annoyed by the actions of others if I begin any interaction with smiling. I’ve found the physical act of smiling has a profound mental and spiritual effect on myself.

So, I recommend smiling. Yes, it has positive effects on others. Under certain definitions, it may be easier to smile than to frown. But in the end, smile for the change it will make in you. You will increase your power for good as you do.


At Believe, we are working to accomplish good in the world.  We believe in you and the power you have to change yourself and others.  We would love to have you join us as we work to be the good that people wish to see in the world today. 

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