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Why You Should Smile More: It’s Life or Death!


Is it possible that your ability to influence others, get your dream job, get promoted, make sales and inspire others could all hinge on how often and broadly you smile?
What if your propensity for smiling also dictated how long and fulfilling your marriage would be? Or how long your life was?
Surely not!
Well, don’t be so sure…

Reason to smile more #1: Influence

Smiling more often will enhance the influence you have with others. Whether you are a leader, sales person, in customer service or a professional influence is crucial to your success.
According to a study at Penn State University, when we see others who smile genuinely and often, we attribute to them a whole range of positive attributes. They appear more likeable. They even appear more competent.
At first glance it makes sense smiling can enhance your likeability. You only have to think of someone you know whose face lights up every time they see you and reflect on how that makes you feel. It’s hard not to like them. Even if it’s only your dog we’re talking about!
But competence? How is this possible? One explanation is that people who smile often and genuinely appear to ‘have their emotional sh*t together’. They also appear more self-confident. Another explanation is something psychologists call the Halo Effect. The Halo Effect is a ‘cognitive bias‘ where a positive attribute, such as smiling, can impact our judgement of other qualities, like competence or intelligence. Basically, displaying a genuine smile is almost like having a halo floating above you.
So let’s join the dots here. If you are perceived as both more likeable and more competent than the next person, it is pretty obvious the amount of social influence you can wield. As a leader or sales person. In job interviews. On dates.
But it doesn’t stop there. A 30 year longitudinal study at UC Berkeley that examined the smiles of students from an old yearbook found there was a correlation between how broadly people smiled in their photo and how inspiring they would be to others later in life…30 years later!
Before I wrap this up, if having more influence isn’t enough to convince you to turn that frown upside down, then how about another reason to smile more…

Reason #2: A More Fulfilling and Longer Life

The same 30 year UC Berkeley study found that the widest smilers in those old yearbook photos also consistently ranked highest in:

  • How fulfilling and long lasting their marriages would be.
  • How highly they would score on standardised tests of well-being and general happiness.

It goes further. In 2010 a study from Wayne State University examined pre-1950s baseball cards and analysed the smiles of the Major League players depicted. How broadly they smiled – the smile span – correlated to the length of their life. For those players not smiling, their average lifespan was 72.9 years. For those with a beaming smile their average lifespan was 79.9 years. That is a 7 year difference just from smiling!

When Not to Smile

I’ll admit there are times when smiling is best supressed.
For instance:

  • During an argument. I’ve been told.
  • While attempting to whistle. Try it. It’s Impossible.
  • Or when your husband smacks his head when closing the boot of the car and it starts spurting blood and an ambulance comes and he can’t board his flight home. Yes, I’m talking to you Michelle. When I’m pissing blood is not the time to be pissing yourself laughing.

Call to action

Does this mean we need to be fake? Baring our teeth regardless of how we feel? I hope not! We all value authenticity. No one wants to feel like they are dealing with an eternal beauty pageant contestant.
Maybe the message is simply this:

If you feel good, tell your face!

If you feel happy, enthusiastic, excited, positive, gratitude or amused it would be nice to know. We may be your colleague, your client, your kid or a stranger. Treat us to a smile. A genuine and warm smile. The impact on your life could be profound.


Want more?

For more on this topic check out Ron Gutman’s TED talk where he covers this and more. Or check out this video of the Happiness Hat. It is ridiculous and sort of scary, but it may make you smile; which seems appropriate. 


Image credits: Richard Branson photo: UNclimatechange / CC BY (

Posted to Developing Leadership Capability on 21st October 2014

4 thoughts on “Why You Should Smile More: It’s Life or Death!

  1. Jenny says:

    Thanks Shaun, good read. I’m smiling right now!

  2. Melissa C says:

    *insert big genuine grin here* great article Shaun 🙂

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