Contaminated by a Smile

Author: Ann Grandchamp, Mental Health Editor

Let’s start with a cool game

Okay, listen, I’m going to get this off my chest. And then I’m going to suggest that you play a game with me.

I can’t stand seeing so much nastiness, disrespect and intolerance on social networks. I’m tired of seeing such DIVISION.

I’m tired of seeing so many people suffering because of this pandemic, who are grumpy, who are critical, who complain, who are afraid. I understand their fear of course, but it doesn’t do us any good to be so scared all the time.

And then two weeks ago I got tired of being tired of it – has it ever happened to you?

So I decided to let go (if you want to know how to do this, get in touch here). I started playing a game with myself and I’d love it if you would play with me.

Every morning when I wake up I set 2 goals for myself:

  1. to intentionally smile at as many people as I can, with my heart and by looking them in the eye.
  2. see how many people smile back at me.

It’s great fun. It makes me feel good, and when someone smiles back at me, I say to myself: “yes! 1 point!” with a big smile. Sometimes, when the person has passed by, I even do a little dance on the spot.

I play with my children and my husband too. I can earn lots of points at home ;-P.

My Swiss Story: Contaminated by a smile

An Old Man

I’ll tell you a story. On Tuesday a couple of weeks ago, I had an appointment in a tea room with a client. It was just before the Swiss government added more restrictions and restaurants and shops had to close. After our meeting, I was on my way to the cashier to pay, with my mask on and everything, and I saw an elderly man sitting alone at a table with his newspaper.

When I walked by his table, he looked up and saw me. Immediately, I smiled a big smile and said a warm hello to him. He looked a little surprised, then smiled back at me (Yes! One point!), said hello and said in a sad and worried way, “Hey, do you really think they’re going to close all the restaurants again? What am I going to do?”

Oh, it broke my heart. So I got a little closer and I took the time to chat with him, with a smile on my face. In the end, he seemed much more at peace. That’s worth at least 5 points, isn’t it?

Here’s the thing. Smiling is contagious. Did you know that?

My Swiss Story: Contaminated by a smile

The science of smiling

Like I said, smiling is contagious. There have been studies to prove it. So how does it work?

Well, we have mirror neurons in our brain and they mirror facial expressions we see in others around us. It happens automatically and is not something we can control.

When you smile at someone else, their brain automatically replicates it. Their brain sends a signal to their “smile muscles” (zygomaticus major muscles) and their smiling muscles start to tweak. It’s an automatic reflex in the brain which happens withing 25 milliseconds.

So, when you smile at someone, you are infecting them with happiness. How cool is that?

Dr David Hamilton shared some really interesting numbers in April 2020, showing that smiling is a lot more contagious than the corona virus. Yes, you read that right. He compared the contagiousness of corona vs kindness and here is what he found:

  • the corona virus has a contagiousness of 2.5. Meaning that 1 infected person infects 2.5 people, who themselves infect 2.5 people, etc. So at three degrees of separation, it has infected 16 people (2.5×2.5×2.5)
  • kindness has a contagiousness of 5. So at 3 degrees of separation, it has infected 125 people (5x5x5)!

Kindness is already in most households on the planet, whereas corona definitely isn’t. The power of smiling and kindness is phenomenal.

What’s more, smiling makes you healthier by reducing the production of stress inducing hormones in your body, such as cortisol, adrenaline or dopamine, and increasing mood enhancing hormones such as endorphins. Smiling reduces blood pressure.

“But what if I don’t feel like smiling?”, you may ask. Good question. The same thing happens in your body whether you are smiling for real or fake smiling:

“Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.” Charles Darwin, 1872

My Swiss Story: Contaminated by a smile

A few fun facts about smiling

😊 “1 smile stimulates the brain to the tune of 2,000 bars of chocolate.” (Ron Gutman)

😊 “Smiling is as stimulating as receiving £16,000 in cash.” (Ron Gutman)

😊 Smiling predicts longevity. A study showed that people who have beaming smiles a lot, live up to about 79.9 years old whereas people who don’t smile a lot live up to about 72.9 years old. So, how motivating is this?

😊 Ultrasounds show that unborn babies smile in the womb. We already know how to smile before we are born.

😊 Only one third of adults smile more than 20 times a day. Read that again.

😊 Children, however, smile on average 400 times a day.

😊 We sleep better when we smile a lot.

😊 Smiling makes you look good and more confident to others

So at this time when we have to increase social distance (and let’s face it, that sucks), let’s reduce emotional distance by showing more compassion, gentleness and kindness. One really easy way to do this is by smiling more.

Will you play the game with me? Let me know how you get on!

Take care! Stay safe!


Are you enjoying our content? We would love to hear your opinions in the comments sections. Stay tuned for more resources, our team is talking about – Swiss travel, expat living, mental health, nutrition, wellness, recipes, home & lifestyle and activities for children. Stay well and stay with us!

To read posts from November, click here

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