Guest Post: Smiles and Happiness - Are They Contagious?

Guest Post: Smiles and Happiness - Are They Contagious?

Last week my 24 year old son, my wife and I were eating at our dinner table. I don’t remember how we got on the subject but my son said years ago he was upstairs with his friends, playing a game and from the main floor below, he hears mom shouting up the stairs in her angry voice, “ANDREW PAUL JONES!!! YOU GET DOWN HERE RIGHT NOW!!” He apparently hadn’t done his after-school jobs and mom wasn’t happy about it. He said it was very embarrassing to him at the time, to be called out like that in front of his friends. I smiled when I envisioned it all happening, but my wife was deeply embarrassed and apologized with, “I’m so sorry Andy that I didn’t smile more and wasn’t a happier mother for my children.” Andy knew this wasn’t true at all and felt to clarify, “Not true! You were and are, in fact, a very happy mother who smiled all the time. I only told that story more for the humor of it (now years later) than anything else.” Notwithstanding his reassurances (and mine), she felt she should have smiled more for her children. Later that evening he wrote her a very beautiful, poetic letter on how her smiles made a big difference in his life and how he loves her for her smiles. Coincidentally, I recently viewed a 4 minute youtube clip in the Chinese language (subtitled in English) that beautifully exemplifies this exact same subject. How uncanny that our dinnertime conversation mirrored the message in this video so perfectly. It makes me believe that these motherly feelings of not smiling enough for their children are perhaps universal, but not true!

My wife has been a stay-at-home mother most of her life and as I reflect back through the years, I recall that whenever I would come home from work and she would see me, she would put on a beautiful smile and ask about my day. It is only now, that I regretfully see that I have taken her smiles for granted, but what a difference they have made in my life! Her example causes me to reflect, did I also put on a smile when I walked through the door? To be honest, not usually. I have vowed to change.

For all men and women out there who work outside the home, I hope when you come home from work (or come to the day care center, or wherever), whether you come home to a spouse only, or to children with sticky fingers, whatever your situation--I hope you can gather yourself for a moment before you open the door and forcibly put the stress of work behind you AND THEN ENTER THE ROOM WITH A BIG SMILE ON YOUR FACE, WITH HUGS AND LAUGHTER AND HAPPINESS!

If you can do this consistently over the years, what a difference it will make to everyone in the home. I am confident they will remember it and love you for it.

Once I asked my now grown children what was one of their favorite memories. To my surprise, they all agreed that it was on the ride, The Tower of Terror at Disneyland where I was laughing my head off as the room zoomed up and down the hotel. They were all young at the time and weren’t sure whether to be terrorized or not during that ride, but when they saw me laughing with joy, it helped turn their fears to laughter.

Curiously, I had practically forgotten all about that episode and had no idea my laughter would have made such an impression. It pleased me that one of their favorite memories involved laughter and smiles. But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised because when I reflect on some of my fondest memories of my own children and spouse, those memories too always involve laughter and smiles. We could all use more of it and show more of it.

Your smiles can even affect others that cannot see you. I once worked in customer support talking with people over the phone all day. We were told to smile when we talked. We were taught that even though they could not see us over the phone, they could “hear” the smile come through. I have found this to be true. When I talk to someone over the phone today, I can always tell if they are smiling. The smile changes their tone and voice and even their attitude and it all comes through the phone and makes me smile in return. Your smiles make a difference, even when they are only “heard” and not seen.

Many today have too much stress and depression and find it difficult to smile and be happy. There is something you can do to help change that. If you will outwardly show the physical manifestation of happiness (smiling) you are likely to be happier. (Conversely, if you go around frowning all day, you are likely to feel sadder or depressed). In other words, act as if you were happy and you’re more likely to soon feel happy or happier. There have been many studies that prove this but perhaps the most famous one is where one group of students was asked to hold a sanitized felt tipped marker in a horizontal position between their teeth (simulating a smile) and another group of students was asked to put the end of the marker between their puckered lips, with the marker pointing straight in front of them (simulating a frown). The students were not told why they had to hold the markers in their mouth this way or what the purpose of this experiment was. With markers in mouth, each group was then asked to read a series of Far Side cartoons and judge how funny they were.

Those whose facial muscles were (unknowingly to them) simulating a smile found the cartoons funnier than the group who were simulating a frown. Other similar experiments have proven the same thing: if you mimic an attitude (even unknowingly), you will start to feel it. Try smiling even when you don’t feel like it and see if it doesn’t make you a little happier.

I found another way to help me smile more. A lightbulb went off when I read a book by MJ Ryan, called “The Happiness Makeover.” In the book, she said that if you want to be happier then make a study of happy people and note what is different between them and you. "You will notice exactly what you need to learn for you--that is why you notice it. This will be key to your personal happiness." I thought of the happy people in my life: my mother, my wife and daughter, my boss, a niece, a neighbor. What do they do that I don’t? I noted several things but fixated on the fact that they all smile nearly all the time. I decided to make smiling more, a greater focus in my life and a personal goal. This should help me be happier and it also hopefully brightens others. I don’t always succeed, but I think I must be making progress, because last week a co-worker came to put something in my in-basket. I remembered my goal and I consciously smiled and thanked her. She said, “That’s a beautiful smile, Wesley.”

Have you noticed how older people often take on the countenance of their life-long facial expressions? The more you smile in life the happier you will naturally look as you age. Maybe there is something to the old humorous adage: “If you make that face, it will get stuck that way.” Let’s age happily by smiling often now.

I close with this quote: “Put a smile upon your face, which will erase anger; speak out with words of love and peace, appreciation, and respect. If you will do this, your lives will be without regret. Your marriages and family relationships will be preserved. You will be much happier. You will do greater good. You will feel a sense of peace that will be wonderful.”

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