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The Power of a Smile

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I walked into a flower shop the other day and made eye contact with the clerk

I walked into a flower shop the other day and made eye contact with the clerk. I immediately sensed a positive and friendly warmth that made me feel welcome. A few days later I sat in a cab and greeted the driver with eye contact and a nod of my head and received the exact opposite experience. His body language was cold and his demeanor was unwelcoming.

For more than a decade, communications experts have agreed that communication between people is approximately 15 per cent words, 60 per cent body language and the rest voice tone. It's hard to imagine such as fact, but if you start paying attention to communication dynamics you have with people, you can discover for yourself just how much is made up of body language and voice modulation.

Communication dynamics between people has more to do with sensing a person's emotional state than the words we speak. In other words, your emotional state is constantly radiating through your body language and voice tone (mood). When a person is angry, it's not hard to see it on their face or in their body. Alternatively it's easy to see the powerful influence that joy has on a person's face, body positioning and voice tone.

Imagine coming home and greeting someone with a smile and a "hello" spoken in a glad-to-see-you kind of tone. Now imagine a day when you were to come home and you're disappointed with the same person. You're angry and you mumble "hello" without body or eye contact and frustration is visible on your face. In both situations, the only word you spoke was hello, but it was delivered in a very different package.

Emotions spread like viruses. A Yale University study found that moods influence how effectively people accomplish tasks together; upbeat moods boost co-operation and fairness, and result in greater overall performance.

Laughter and smiles in particular demonstrate the power of one of our most contagious emotions. Hearing laughter or being a recipient of a smile automatically triggers a reciprocal response, creating a spontaneous chain reaction that can sweep through a group. Glee spreads so readily because our brain includes open-loop circuits that are designed specifically for detecting smiles and laughter, which makes us laugh in response. The result is a positive emotional hijack.

Of all emotional signals, smiles are the most contagious; they have an almost irresistible power to make others smile in return. Scientists speculate that smiles and laugher evolved as a nonverbal way to cement alliances, signifying that an individual is relaxed and friendly rather that guarded and hostile. Laughter offers a uniquely trustworthy sign of friendliness and involves highly complex neural systems that are mostly involuntary. In other words, it's hard to fake it.

Make it your goal to nurture your joy and peace to a point where it predominantly rules over your anger, fear and sadness. Begin the process of giving up the justification for your anger and fear, drop perfectionism and search to forgive those who have offended you. Being emotionally stuck is usually the result of un-forgiveness, unresolved fear or repetitive self-sabotaging behaviour.

What type of emotion do you radiate at work, at home and in your community? What emotions would the people who know you say they experience most from your moods: sadness, joy, fear, frustration, anger or peace? The woman in the flower shop obviously finds joy when immersed in smelling, creating and selling flowers. On the other hand, the cab driver was experiencing some kind of negative emotion that created a barrier between us.

Increasing your emotional well-being is perhaps one of the most important initiatives to improve your health. Like smoking, a prolonged condition of negative emotions can be toxic to not only your own health but to that of others as well.

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