Smile Awhile

[Q]uestion: What should you do when a complete stranger gives you a big grin?

Answer:  Grin back.  It may be a psychology student studying you.

What causes some people to smile more than others?  Researches aren’t entirely sure.  But a group of psychology students in England are on the case.  The students recently conducted a nationwide smile study targeting fourteen cities in the United Kingdom.*

Photo Copyright Todd Chobotar

Photo Copyright Todd Chobotar

Here’s how they did it.  The students grinned from ear-to-ear at 100 randomly chosen strangers on the street in each city.  They then watched to see how many grinned back.  Here are the results for five of the fourteen cities they studied:

Bristol   70% of the people smiled back
Glasgow   68%
Exeter   54%
London   18%
Edinburgh   4%

The students made an interesting observation.  The smaller the city, the more smiles they received.  As a small town boy raised in the American Midwest, I can identify with these results.  In my experience, small towns are often friendly places. But it’s not just the size of towns that seems to affect people. Age may play into it as well. A while back I recall reading of a study that claimed a child smiles, on average, about 400 times a day, while an adult averages about 15 smiles a day.

Reading the results of these two studies got me thinking and asking some questions of myself.  How often do I smile at complete strangers? Or my family and friends? How often do I smile at work?  How often do I smile period?

British poet Joseph Addison once said, “What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity.”  Beautiful statement.  Since I live in Florida—the sunshine state—I know the wonderful effects of sunshine on both flowers and people.  Sunshine brightens the day.  Brings warmth.  Gives hope after storms.  Smiles do much of the same.  A welcoming smile can brighten the day, bringing warmth and hope when it is needed most.  Smiles speak in a universal tongue that all can understand.  The world is filled with many different languages, yet we all smile in the same language.

The wonderful thing about sharing a smile is its positive effect on both giver and receiver.  Time after time I’ve heard stories of folks who try to cheer others with a smile only to discover their spirits have been lifted as well.  Smiles are power mood elevators.  They are also highly attractive.  Without doubt, a smile is the cheapest way to change your looks.  It’s an instant face-lift better than any cosmetic surgeon could provide.

On top of those benefits, a friend once told me that smiling is one of the three best things you can do with your lips.  The others are kissing and eating ice cream (I’ll let you decide what order those three belong in).

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the ancient scriptures have a few things to say about smiles.  King David saw God’s smile as a blessing:

“Let the smile of your face shine on us, Lord.” (Psalm 4:6 NLT) 

King Solomon offered wisdom on the effects of a smile:

“A friendly smile makes you happy, and good news makes you feel strong.”  (Proverbs 15:30 CEV) 

Even the Apostle Paul shared a few thoughts on the subject:

“And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God.”  (Ephesians 6:7 MSG)

Let’s take the topic down to a more personal level.  On a scale of one to ten, how much would you say you smile?  Are you an “8” with plenty of smiles to share?  Maybe a “5” with smiles only when you care?  Or even a “2” with barely a smile to spare?  If you feel you’ve lost your smile today, don’t worry.  It’s never far away.  It’s ready to expose right under your nose.  Why not consider sharing a smile with someone who needs it today?  The next time you pass a complete stranger, flash ‘em your best smile.  It may be a psychology student studying you.  Or it may just be someone who needs a little sunshine streamed into their life today.

“May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.”  Numbers 6:25-26 NLT

Question: How many times a day do you think you smile? What might help you to smile more?


* “Surly Londoners at Bottom of UK ‘Grin League’”, Reuters News Service, February 25, 2003.

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