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The Incredible Power of a Smile :-)

by Ross Smith on May 18, 2011


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The Incredible Power of a Smile :-)


You can't give a smile away; it always comes back. - Susan RoAne

With such power in your smile, sure a stone you'd beguile,
And there's never a teardrop should fall,
When your sweet lilting laughter's like some fairy song
And your eyes sparkle bright as can be.
You should laugh all the while and all other times smile,
So now smile a smile for me.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling

In The Brief History of the Smile, author Angus Trumble writes

Every smile is the product of physical processes common to all humans. But since the dawn of civilization, the upward movement of the muscles of the face has carried a bewildering range of meanings. Supreme enlightenment is reflected in the holy smile of the Buddha, yet the Victorians thought of open-mouthed smiling as obscene, and nineteenth-century English and American slang equated "smiling" with drinking whisky.

In the early 1960s State Mutual Life Assurance of Worcester, MA initiated a merger that had bad effects on company morale. In 1964, State Mutual cooked up a "friendship campaign" to get employees to smile whenever they answered the phone, paid a claim, or typed a report. The company turned to Harvey Ball for graphic support. Ball reported that he spent about 10 minutes designing the smiley face, and he was paid $45 for it. This was the only profit that Ball ever made from his most famous creation. Neither Ball nor the insurance company trademarked or copyrighted the smiley face. In the early 1970s, the smiley face image became a symbol for an entire generation of Americans, emerging as one of the most well-known images in the country.

A great urban legend has it that it takes seventeen muscles to smile but it takes forty-three to frown. Actually, it's not quite that, but it's close - and smiling certainly makes people feel better than frowning.

"As the years passed Harvey Ball became concerned about the over-commercialization of his symbol, and how its original meaning and intent had become lost in the constant repetition of the marketplace. Out of that concern came his idea for World Smile Day. He thought that we, all of us, should devote one day each year to smiles and kind acts throughout the world. The smiley face knows no politics, no geography and no religion. Harvey's idea was that for at least one day each year, neither should we. He declared that the first Friday in October each year would henceforth be World Smile Day. Ever since that first World Smile Day held in 1999, it has continued every year in Smiley's hometown of Worcester, MA and around the world." -

This year, World Smile Day will be celebrated around the globe on Friday, October 7th, 2011. It will mark the thirteenth consecutive year since its launch in 1999.

Gallup studies have suggested that "having a friend at work" makes people happier and more productive. Dale Carnegie, in his famous, How to Win Friends and Influence People talks about the importance of smiling in making friends.

Your smile is a messenger of good will. Your smile brightens the lives of all who see it. To someone who has seen a dozen people frown, scowl or turn their faces away, your smile is like the sun breaking through the clouds. Especially when that someone is under pressure from his bosses, his customers, his teachers or parents or children, a smile can help him realize that all is not hopeless -- there is joy in the world.

His second principle for "making people like you" was to smile. So, if we put two and two together, then it's probably safe to say that smiling will make people happier and more productive at work.

On the MiX, check out The Good Humor Company, which proposes an analysis of:

the relationship between virtues, sense of humor and organizational outcomes and to propose a tentative framework of relationships. In particular, we will try to answer the following question: "What is the impact of introducing a new management technique based on virtues and sense of humor to increase organizational outcomes and develop workers and leaders for the future?

Hewlett-Packard's Olivier Lavergne asks us,

When was the last time you looked at a Dilbert cartoon and a big smile appeared on your face? Let's face it, if these cartoons make us laugh, it is not only because they are sarcastic but also because we recognize to some extent situations we have indeed encountered in our own organizations. It could stop there and Dilbert would just be funny but what about using Dilbert as an Organization Development tool? But how?

MiX Maverick Gary Hamel in The Hole in the Soul of Business asks,

What are the goals and ideas that get a lot of airtime in your company? It's probably notions like superiority, advantage, leadership, differentiation, value, focus, discipline, accountability, and efficiency. Nothing wrong with this, but do these goals quicken your pulse? Do they speak to your heart? Are they "good" in any cosmic sense?

Also check out Gary's video essay on Reinventing Human Accomplishment.

Late Night Pizza: Extending Hackathons Beyond Technology states

The goal of a hackathon, then, is to bridge the gap between employee and firm, or really, idea and proposal. The other goal is to have a lot of fun and eat pizza. And the real goal is to unlock innovation firm-wide.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, in the best-seller, Delivering Happiness says that "happiness is really just about four things: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness, and vision/meaning"--so many of the MiX posts about empowerment, such as Mark Vandeneijnde's hack on Leadership Coaching are focused on these core behaviors that build organizations full of smiles.

Julian Birkinshaw talks about an approach that AdNovum is taking to give employees more control over their destiny in his post, When it comes to project work, casting is everything.

In the mid 1800's, French physician Guillaume Duchenne used electrophysiology to determine that "genuine" smiles, those resulting from happiness, use muscles in both the mouth and the eyes. While conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions Duchenne identified two distinct types of smiles. Duchenne commented,

The emotion of frank joy is expressed on the face by the combined contraction of the zygomaticus major muscle and the orbicularis oculi. The first obeys the will but the second is only put in play by the sweet emotions of the soul; the. . . fake joy, the deceitful laugh, cannot provoke the contraction of this latter muscle.. . .The muscle around the eye does not obey the will; it is only brought into play by a true feeling, by an agreeable emotion. Its inertia, in smiling, unmasks a false friend.

Smiles reflecting positive emotions, using muscles in the eyes and raising the cheeks, are now known as "Duchenne smiles".

We know there are health benefits from smiling.

People who frequently smile are perceived to be more in control, at ease and attractive than those who don't.

British researcher Amy Drahota studied how people speak when they are smiling. Her work suggests that people can hear the difference between someone speaking while smiling and someone not smiling, even if they cannot see them.

The benefits of smiling at work are many, from an individual standpoint, as well as for the organization.

Take the work out of work by introducing a smile. Laugh, tell a joke, have fun.

Add an emoticon to your email and IM.

From Wikipedia,

the first person documented to have used the emoticons :-) and :-(, with a specific suggestion that they be used to express emotion, was Scott Fahlman; the text of his original proposal, posted to the Carnegie Mellon University computer science general board on 19 September 1982.


A smile costs nothing but gives much. It enriches those who receive without making poorer those who give. It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None is so rich or mighty that he cannot get along without it and none is so poor that he cannot be made rich by it. Yet a smile cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is of no value to anyone until it is given away. Some people are too tired to give you a smile. Give them one of yours, as none needs a smile so much as he who has no more to give. -Author Unknown

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