Smiling takes little effort and almost no time. Different numbers get thrown around in research, articles and on social media about how many muscles it takes; it is widely known that smiling takes far fewer muscles than frowning. When people are suffering with anxiety, depression, grief or addiction, among a myriad of other hardships and struggles, the simple act of a smile can seem difficult. So, why write a blog about smiling? Smiles pay off with huge mental health dividends.

How many times have you been in a foul mood and someone you encounter out in public, say at a local coffee shop or department store, smiles at you? Have you ever noticed it turns your sour mood slightly less sour? Or the reverse occurs; have you ever encountered a seemingly unhappy person in public and you offer a smile? Your smile has impacts on others and the smile becomes contagious and carries to others.

I have always said that Wawa (a regional area convenient store) is the friendliest place on Earth. Everyone seems to hold the door open for the next customer, typically with a smile and met with a thank you and a smile. I refer to it as the friendliest place on Earth somewhat in jest but if you truly observe the interactions that occur in a given trip there and take note of how contagious interactions are, it is pretty incredible.

Yesterday I was at my local Wawa and the clerk must have been having a tougher day than usual and was not in the happiest of moods. As I stood in line, I observed her interactions with the customers and her general radiated energy. She was not smiling and seemed anxious for her shift to end. As I approached her and slid my food on the counter closer to her to ring up. I smiled at her as she took my cash and bagged my food. Again, I made eye contact, smiled and said to have a great day. It was instant. Her face brightened. Her tone changed. Her look morphed into a brighter, lighter version. She took a deep breath and repeated back to me, “Thank you. You also have a great day.” As I left the store, I looked back and she had a completely new demeanor.

Smiling can sometimes be the only thing that someone struggling can behaviorally activate to do when life seems very difficult. I have “prescribed” the challenge of smiling to many, many clients over the years and the feedback is overwhelming. The smile to others helped themselves. Other times I tell clients to make eye contact and just smile back when someone smiles at them. Again, positive feedback. Clients repeatedly report that smiling to initiate or to receive and return a smile helps their mood in the moment and also helps their mood remain more positive carrying forward.

I have not done a research study on this topic nor am I siting any in this blog article. I have thousands of examples exactly like this one from yesterday. If you would like to share a comment on this blog about how a smile became contagious and how it helped you or someone else, I would love to hear about it! Perhaps people even reading about a smile can be helpful!!