The Power of a smile

This week I mainly have a big grin on my face. Not just because my life is peachy (although it is), but because I was inspired by Ron Gutman’s TED talk on “The hidden power of smiling”. Now journalists are not renowned for being smiley, but PR people, as ambassadors for themselves and their clients, have to make more of an effort to be amenable. So I am taking a leaf out of your book and trying to look friendlier, because as Gutman quotes in his speech: “A recent study at Penn State University found that when you smile, you don’t only appear to be more likable and courteous, but you actually appear to be more competent.” Bearing that in mind, when you read on, imagine that I have a great big smile on my face, and hopefully you will think that this column is quite well written!

Smiling may seem like an easy way to make life sweeter, and more successful, but like any quick fix there has to be a catch. PR people know that there is always a catch. In this case, it is that pretending to feel something you don‘t is bad for you. It has been documented that “emotional labour”, which is having to manage your emotions (for example grinning and bearing it when a journalist has a go at you), can lead to burnout. This tends to be worse in caring professions, like medicine, but in its own way PR can be a caring profession too. So yes, smiling is good for you, but only if you really, really, mean it.

One way to smile genuinely is to think about something that makes you happy, which is difficult if a client is making snarky remarks about your latest campaign, but well worth the effort. This is because another study that Gutman quotes found big smilers live longer. A 2010 Wayne State University research project looked at pre-1950s baseball cards of Major League players. It discovered that the span of a player’s smile could actually predict the span of his life, with non-smilers living around seven years less than big grinners.

The bad news for me is that in my final-year school photo I look as miserable as sin. I am trying to make up for it by smiling as much as possible now (note my new photo, where I hope my grin looks genuine rather than mad) but I fear it may be too little, too late …