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Connecting – Investing in a Smile and the Ripple Effect

27 september 2016

Fall is coming quickly here in America and my recent trip to Greece in the summer to connect with family and friends for a Greek Wedding in Makrinitsa, a village high in the Pelion Mountains is fast becoming a memory.

  • The voice of Primary

However the feeling of Xenia I experienced is not.  Despite their troubles the Greek people appear to remain happy still practicing the ancient tradition of Xenia, connecting to the humble stranger with a smile and a handshake, treating them as if they were a God.

Ever the Psychologist and skeptical of some of the psychobabble related to well-being, I was curious to find out if there could be a cause and effect between happiness and the ability to connect with others.

We know from the work undertaken in  Five Ways to Wellbeing that connecting with people is one of the cornerstones to well-being.  As an expat we all know how a welcome Skype call from friends and family back home can really boost our mood. The person who smiles at you and says after a parent meeting or workshop, ‘Why don't you come and have coffee’, or the friendly smile from the teacher at the classroom door or the stall holder in the Wet Market can all dramatically alter our mindset to meet the challenges of the day with a positive attitude. But can something as simple as a smile help us make lasting connections and boost our happiness?

In Shawn Achor’s book, ‘The Happiness Advantage’ he talks of Social Investment and the Ripple Effect  At the heart of Social investment is the idea – ‘that when we encounter an unexpected challenge or threat, the only way to save ourselves is to hold on tight to the people around us and not let go.’ 

Therefore if we invest in positive connections this investment will pay back tenfold in situations where we need to be strong and show some mental toughness.

So where does smiling come into all of this?

Humans mirror attitudes, habits and behaviours. Emotions are highly contagious and if we mix with people who are in a good mood we begin to mimic their body language, tone of voice and facial expressions.  This is referred to as the ‘facial feedback hypothesis.’  Without even knowing it we begin to feel happy too.  When we smile, nurotransmitters such as endorphins, dopamine and serotonin are all released in the brain, making us feel good.  If we smile at someone they can’t help but react by smiling and in turn heighten their mood.  

And this is where it becomes really powerful.  Just as the water ripples outward when a pebble is dropped into the well, so does your positive mindset ripple outwards to impact not only on the lives of those around you but also to those within three degrees of us which Fowler and Christakis in their research on connections estimate can be up to a 1000 people!

Don’t believe me?  Why not try it.  

 Have a go at the 10ft 5ft rule practiced in customer care and hospitality. Quite simply, if you are 3m,10ft from someone you make eye contact and smile and if you are 1.5m, 5ft away you smile and acknowledge them verbally.  You will not only have the potential to make yourself feel happy, but like the Greeks I met in Makrinitsa, you have the opportunity to make the other person feel like a God.

If you would like to learn more about well-being and in particular how you can share with your children the power of smiling and the ripple effect, Shawn Achor has written a great children’s book, ‘Ripple’s effect.’  Although this is for younger children, the game described in it works brilliantly with teenage children and adults.

Other resources on well-being that you might find interesting include:

The Happiness Advantage

 The happy secret to better work

Beyond Happiness


Don’t forget the Coaching Conversations group for parents, a great way to make connections.

Contact for more details.

Sue Smith, 2015/16 Well Being Co-ordinator