The Science of Smiling with Larry David

I am so relieved that a new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm has begun. There is something about watching Larry David that feels like an emotional release, a time to ignore how other’s perceive you, thus allowing us to react with our inner curmudgeon. Of course, Curb is just a television show and we are trying to be leaders so let’s talk about being the anti-Larry.

There’s a scene in a past season where Larry is grumpily walking down the street when a stranger passes him and says, “Smile,” in a harmless cheer up sorta way. Without missing a beat, Larry responds with, “Hey, mind your own business. How about that?”

Larry is obviously not trying to be a leader. If he were, he’d know the many advantages of smiling. Before you side with Larry and dismiss smiling as a trivial, new agey proposition, extensive recent has found that even the subtlest signs of facial positivity are strong indicators of success. Not enough to convince you? What about this research:

Approachable. Studies found that people are more willing to engage with those who are smiling. They come across as more competent, likable, and friendly. And customers working with smiling employees left the interactions feeling more satisfied about their overall experience.

Productivity. The “mood boost” that has been scientifically found to result from smiling, has also been found to have a significant and causal effect on workplace productivity.

Trustworthy. In a University of Pittsburgh study, a person smiling was perceived as being significantly more honorable and dependable than someone frowning or holding a neutral expression.

Creativity. Studies show that smiling people have a more comprehensive approach to problems. Being happy improves their ability to learn, process new information, and think of more solutions than their negative-minded counterparts.

Stress Management. One experiment revealed that people with the biggest smile experienced a substantial reduction in heart rate and swifter stress recovery compared to those whose expressions remained neutral.

Now that you’re converted to Team Smile, we need to address two concerns. First, you may be worried that you aren’t in the mood to bear a big grin. Good news, researchers have found that a forced smile can have the same positive effects, even when your mood suggests otherwise.

[The smile is] the symbol that was rated with the highest positive emotional content.—Andrew Newberg, author of Words Can Change Your Brain

Your second concern may be that you don’t know how to smile, i.e. you want to maximize your smile quotient so as to gain the most benefit. To project a smile perceived as genuine, you need to activate two facial muscles—your mouth and your eyes. Scientists call this the “social” smile.

There are many instances in life where you can curb your enthusiasm… leadership is not one of these instances. Whether you are walking through the hallways, facilitating a meeting, or simply standing in an environment where others can observe you, make smiling your go-to expression. After all, there are worse reputations than being happy.