One Thing You Can Do Now: #7 Pay it Forward with a Smile

by Anne Bennett on October 8, 2009

See Mom? This is how you smile!

Not quite, Mom. Show some teeth, like this.

When someone smiles at you, do you smile back? Chances are you do, because smiling is as contagious as the swine flu. No kidding. This is an actual theory that sociologists call “social contagion”, and it goes like this: we have mirror neurons in our brains that cause us to mimic what we see in the faces of people around us. Who could resist returning the beautiful smile of my daughter Elizabeth?

This emotional mirroring can spread exponentially through a crowd and has been likened to a herd of stampeding buffalo. You don’t ask one buffalo why he’s turning to the left, the scientists say. They’re ALL turning to the left! They’re mirroring each other. And so it goes with people and their positive emotions.

They say that if you want to be happy, surround yourself with lots of friends, not just a few close relationships. The more exposure you have to small daily doses of happiness, the happier you feel. Of course, it goes both ways–being around negative people can have an effect on your emotions, but fortunately negative emotions, while also contagious, don’t tend to have as strong an impact on us as positive ones.┬áTo read more about it, here’s an article from the New York Times, “Are Your Friends Making You Fat?” that explains the concept in more depth. Notice I didn’t say anything about the title of the article. I’m making no judgements here, but you also might want to review the eating habits of your friends while you’re at it.

In the meantime, smile. Like the proverbial buffalo, you just might start a stampede.

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Judy Rea October 11, 2009 at 11:46 am

Anna – one of my psychology classes reported a study where two groups of people were shown a funny movie. One group just watched the movie, while the second group watched the movie holding a pencil in their teeth, forcing their mouths into a smile. Afterwards both groups were surveyed, and the group with the pencils found the movie funnier than the group without. So exercising those smile muscles can affect your response to life’s events.

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