Smiling Your Way to the Top

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Little business man next to a stack of booksI won’t tell you that a simple smile will nab you a Bentley and ensure that you have good looking kids, but there are some actual, proven benefits to rocking a smile wherever you go. There is real science behind this age-old trick of the trade, called facial coding. Negative facial expressions, like frowning, and positive facial expressions, like smiling, have been found to alter moods.

The Duchenne Smile

The Duchenne smile is what you could call a “real” smile. When we are flashing a genuine smile, our facial muscles are involved all the way up to our eyes. This smile lasts longer, and actually produces a change in brain activity, resulting in a better mood. You might have recognized the name Duchenne as it relates to his work in the discovery of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Yeah, real science here people.

Smiling and Stress

These changes in mood exhibited by people who frequently smile also affect health. According to Rodger Dooley, marketing pro and Forbes contributor, “‘Smilers’ exhibited lower heart rate levels after completing a stressful task compared to subjects who assumed a neutral expression.”

Duchenne smilers actually have lower stress numbers than the social smilers. According to Rebecca Maxon of Fairleigh Dickinson University:

Workplace stress costs U.S. employers an estimated $200 billion per year in absenteeism, lower productivity, staff turnover, workers’ compensation, medical insurance and other stress-related expenses. Considering this, stress management may be business’ most important challenge of the 21st Century.

The ending may be a little dramatic, but it does stand to reason that smiling can potentially do wonders for your professional career. Work is full of stressors, and smiling is a proven stress reducer. In fact, Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas said

The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment. Not only will it help you ‘grin and bear it’ psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well!

Fake It ‘Till You Make It

Most of us worked in some kind of food service or retail job during our college years. Smiles were a part of the uniform. It is a pretty common phenomenon for stressed out, hung over college students to show up to work in a horrible mood and leave with a fresh and positive outlook. It’s because we were forced to smile at customers!

It turns out that even a disingenuous smile can make a positive difference in mood and stress reduction. On the other hand, frowns are tied to the opposite effects. So ,why not smile? Dooley said, “The smile doesn’t have to be based on real emotion –faking it works.”

When You’re Smilin’, the Whole World Smiles with You

Who could argue with such wise words from Mr. Louis Armstrong? Those aren’t just lyrics; research shows that the emotions that facial expressions convey are actually contagious. According to a Spark People article, “Studies show that something as simple as seeing a friend smile can activate the muscles in your face to make that same expression, without you even being aware that you are doing it.”

When the people around you are happier, they carry less stress, they’re more productive and they just plain like you more. These all sound like the traits of someone you might want to keep around the office.

Smiling has been known to convey traits like confidence, stability and conscientiousnessagain, traits that employers and co-workers respect and gravitate to. Donning a smile in the office can reduce stress, create a positive environment through emotional contagion and even have positive effects on health. As cheesy as it sounds, smiles are free, so try it out.

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Courtney McGann is the content creator and PR gal for Red Branch Media, an Omaha-based marketing firm. Red Branch Media was formed in 2006 as a simple consultancy. Today, the firm is a full-service B2B marketing agency, primarily focused on human resources and global workforce vendors. In the past Courtney has managed online communities, professional social outlets, marketing campaigns and event planning.