Smiling Worth More Than The Billable Hour

Ron Gutman discussed in March 2011 the hidden power of smiling. His research started at UC Berkley. There, a 30-year longitudinal study examined photos of students in old yearbooks to measure their success and well-being throughout their life.

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By measuring a woman’s yearbook smile, researchers could actually predict how fulfilling and enduring her  marriage would be, how well she would score on standardized tests, and how inspiring she would become to others in the future.

Similar relationships were determined during a 2010 Wayne State University research project that analyzed pre-1950s baseball cards of Major League players. The study found that the span of player’s smile could predict the length of his life. Players who did not smile in their pictures lived an average of 72.9 years. Players with beaming smiles, however, lived an average of 80 years (sadly, the study could not draw a correlation between a player’s smile and his batting average).

Luckily for those aiming at long lives, smiling is one of the first and most natural of facial expressions. According to 3D ultrasound technology, people smile as early as the womb. Babies smile at the sound of the human voice and in their sleep, for example.

So not only is smiling an easy expression to make, but the act of smiling is interpreted the same way across nations and cultures. Smiling expresses joy and satisfaction to New Yorkers, new mothers, and even the Papau New Guinea cannibalistic Fore tribe (Seriously. That was also studied).

As a kid, did your mother ever tell you smiling was contagious? Did your brother taunt you, saying your face could get stuck that way? Well, according to a study at Uppsala University in Sweden, your family was right all along. Smiling is certifiably contagious. It is difficult, according to Swedish test subjects, to frown when faced with somebody who is smiling.

But you can’t fake it. A different study at the University of Clermon-Ferrand in France showed that people were actually quite attune to identifying which smiles were real and which smiles were disingenuous. This was done by the mere act of mimicking them.

If you do fake it, smiling that is, your peers may know the difference, but your psyche does not. Charles Darwin—based on an experiment performed by French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne—theorized that fake smiles send messages to our brain simulating the same relief of stress and happiness that a real smile would.

As modern technology became available, German scientists measured brain activity and were able to prove Darwin’s theory. In fact, smiling was as stimulating to the brain as 2,000 bars of chocolate and a gift of 16,000 pounds cash, thanks to an increase of mood-enhancing hormones, such as endorphin, and a reduction of stress-enhancing ones, like cortisol. Turns out, there is literally such a thing as a million dollar smile.

And when a smile is directed at others, the sense of satisfaction is doubled. Not only do you, yourself, feel better, but the person facing you does too. A study at Penn State University showed a smiling person was considered both more courteous and more competent by onlookers than an unsmiling one. So, next time you face the prying eyes of judge or jury, flash a smile instead of your bar card to gain credibility and their confidence.

To summarize, whenever you want your employees to work harder, be more satisfied, trust your opinions, or follow your instructions, a smile may prove more effective than a bonus. As an attorney, when you need an extra boost in court, late nights in the office, or facing a tough client or critic, remember that smiling may actually be worth more than the billable hour.

See, Morale Boosting Management Methods to Banish Recessionary Doom and Gloom, or Dealing with Difficult People at Work, CCM “First Friday” events.



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