The Magic of Giving a Smile

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In our last article we discussed incredible power of emotional contagion, and how – due to our tendency to subconsciously mirror others – emotions are extremely contagious. Because of this, with a little self-awareness, you can guide your emotions to positively influence others.

One specific, actionable, and incredibly powerful way to go about doing this is simple: smile at someone.

Or, as I prefer to say, give them a smile.

This simple act may be a bit more powerful than you realize.

What can smiling at someone do?

Well, if you’ve read this post, you probably already realize that it has the power to influence someone else’s mood for the better – actually changing the chemicals in their brain a little bit, to help them be a little bit happier.

But in addition to that, smiling can also make you happier.

According to The As If Principle, a research-backed book about how our outer actions affect our moods and thoughts, simply acting as if you are feeling a certain way tends to make you actually feel that way.

Let’s pause and talk about this for a second:

According to The As If Principle, if you can get someone to act as if they feel a certain way, then they will tend to actually start to feel that way.

  • For example, have you ever heard stories of actors who have played love interests, who have gone on to develop feelings for each other? That’s the “as if” principle at work.
  • Another example mentioned in the book was a sneaky experiment designed to get people to effectively “play footsie” with each other. This was covertly accomplished by having the subjects play poker, but allowing certain pairs to cheat by tapping signals to each other’s feet under the table. (Thus, the cheating pairs more or less went through the physical motions of “playing footsie” – and afterward, they rated their partner as more attractive.)


Basically, even just going through the motions of feeling a certain way – even if it’s for a different *apparent* purpose – (i.e., “to make a movie,” “to cheat at cards”) – causes people to actually feel the related feelings.

In other words, you can basically trick yourself to do something that will, as a side effect, conjure certain emotions.

So, back to smiling:

Do you want to be happier?

Well, you could go through the motions of smiling. According to The As If Principle, simply the act of smiling (ideally for at least 20 seconds) will improve your mood.

But guess what? Just forcing yourself to smile is really weird and hard.

It’s…like…oddly hard to do. Go ahead, try it right now, maybe you’ll have some success:

Relax your face, pull the corners of your lips to the side, squint the edges of your eyes. (People’s eyes crinkle at the corners in genuine smiles). Smile wider. …Wider. Show teeth! Hold it for 20 seconds.

If you can pull it off, it’ll actually make you feel a bit better. (Practicing helps.)

But if this is uncomfortable for you, there’s another option. Sort of like the psychologists did in the sneaky “poker game/footsie” experiment, you may have to “trick” yourself into smiling – and provide yourself a different reason to act the intended way.

And guess what?

It’s actually much eaiser to “give” someone else a smile, to help them feel good, than it is to just smile for yourself.

So try giving someone else a smile. Try using the concept of “emotional contagion” to help improve someone else’s mood.

Instead of focusing on yourself, focus on the other person, on helping them. Really try to “give” good vibes to that person, to wish them well, with a smile.

…And as a pleasant side effect, just the act of smiling at them will make you feel much happier.

And hey, they might just actually catch your good mood.

In fact, who knows, you might just end up making their day.

That’s pretty magical.

Published by Dolan

Relentless self-optimizer, biohacker, traveler, reader.

2 thoughts on “The Magic of Giving a Smile

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