Smile, Says U Psychologist; It's Good For You
People who smile a lot tend to manage an office more capably, teach more effectively, sell more merchandise and raise happier children.
And, they get more smiles in return.
“That alone is reason enough for smiling more,” says University of Michigan psychologist James V. McConnell.
"Imagine what life would be like if you never got feedback for your actions or accomplishments. A smile tells us ‘right on! Continue what you are doing! You are reaching your goal!’” McConnell says.
“A frown only tells us we’ve done something wrong, but seldom tells us what we should do instead to win a smile.
“There’s more information in a smile than a frown,” McConnell says. “That's why encouragement is a much more effective teaching device than punishment."
His comments were made in response to a letter received by the U-M. The letter writer asked, “What is the value of a smile? How does a smile, given and received, enrich our lives? How can we learn to smile more often?”
McConnell does not claim to be an expert on smiling, but he does know its effect on people. “We smile at others when they please us, because we absolutely need to be smiled at when we do something right. We can’t see ourselves behave, so we act as mirrors for one another. It is the Golden Rule all over again.
In his introductory psychology classes, McConnell has taught people to smile simply by asking them to count the number of times they think they are smiling in a 10 minute period. Then he asks them to increase that number by one or two smiles during the next 10 minutes, and plots the results on a graph.
“The learning goes even faster if one can make a videotape of the process. Then the person has a, very objective record of how frequently he smiles — as well as how others respond to those smiles,” says McConnell.
“Learning seldom occurs unless we get feedback, either from monitoring our own actions, or through the responses of people around us. The two kinds of feedback are rewards and punishment.
“Rewards tend to increase our motivation, security and sense of accomplishment. But punishment tends to interrupt behavior, suppress emotions (other than hate) and make us feel negatively toward the punisher. "Frowns," McConnell says, “are a form of punishment.”
Frowns, like smiles, affect both the sender and receiver. Studies show that medical doctors who are frowning and critical toward their patients experience twice as many malpractice suits as doctors who are smiling and encouraging, McConnell states.
“Also, for some time I have worked with parents of delinquent children. More than 80 per cent of these parents are punitive non-smilers. The other parents may smile, but they spend little time with their kids anyhow. I have never met a delinquent’s parent who was warm, encouraging and smiling!
“Go to a cocktail party and watch who is attracted to whom. People who smile draw more attention. They are better liked and are perceived as being more friendly.
"Frowns are a type of psycho-pollution that are as deadly as smoke fumes or mercury in drinking water,” McConnell declares. “One can kill the spirit more easily than the body, I suspect. We legislate against polluted air and water; maybe we ought to legislate for more smiling, to improve mental health!”