Maybe a smile is the most powerful thing in the world

Great Smile

That sounds like a brutally cheesy headline, right? No doubt. But think about this: I was trolling the Stanford Graduate School of Business website, as I’m wanton to do, and I found a video by Jennifer Aaker (a professor there) about “what makes us happy.” I can’t think of one human being who would come across that headline and not click on it, so that thing best have about 8 billion page views. (That’s how the Internet works, right?) Then I ran into a related post from July 2014 about “how to make yourself happy” (again, 8 billion page views) and that post ends with this nugget: 

Aaker has continued to improve the lives of others through her behavioral research, which helps illuminate how people can attain lasting and more meaningful happiness. “People want to get happier, but often don’t know the best path to do that,” she says. “Generally, we find that it is more effective to get out of our own heads, and orient ourselves to others.” A small smile can make a big difference — to the giver as much as the receiver.

Think about that: get out of your own head and orient yourself to others. It’s all tied up with the idea of doing one good thing for someone else — friend or not — and random acts of kindness. The small smile can make a big difference to the giver. I’ve also thought for a long time that the receiver obviously feels the power of it too — this is probably a trite thing to say, but if more people had smiled at Adam Lanza, would Newtown have happened? (I wrote about that idea here.)

Think about this in a work context: if you have a boss who gets everything done and nails deliverables and assures you get a bonus/raise but that boss never smiles, and then you have a boss who is a little bit all over the place and isn’t really sure what you’re ever working on but always smiles, which boss are you going to rate as higher? I suppose it depends on the type of person you are, but listen — I like money as much as the next human being, and I like buying things with money and all that. I’ve had both of those types of bosses, and you know what? 100 times out of 100, I prefer the latter. You want positive interaction, especially in a world where everything’s confusing anyway half the time.

I hate the ads and movie trailers where someone says something like “… nothing is more powerful than a dream…” (it’s in this Russell Wilson ad I’ll embed right now).

… but if you think about it, is there anything really much more powerful than a smile? You can flash one — it takes mere seconds — and, at the same time, make your life better as well as the life of another person. Talk about a two-fer, and/or “paying it forward.” There’s very few things in human existence that can achieve so much with such a simple gesture. Cool, right?


Ted Bauer