The Power of a Smile, Kristin McGillicuddy, Planning and Administration


I am a big fan of quotes and fun phrases. At my desk, you will find sticky notes in various(11) K R I S T I N _ M C G I L L I C U D D Y _ LinkedInplaces, holding words of wisdom to catch my eye at just the right time to provide needed encouragement. It’s a big reason why I enjoy Facebook – the quotes posted by friends can be inspirational, motivational or just plain funny. I look for books of quotes, and I add quotes to all my presentations in and out of the classroom.

My favorite quote?  There are so many good ones!  But I do have one that stands out above the rest. It’s amazingly simple, but so powerful. And, I think it could be helpful to you as you embark on your journey here, at UMassD.

At all times and in all places, always be the first to smile.

Smiling is pleasant. We like to see it and we like to do it. But did you know there is strong scientific backing to the power of smiling, and many research studies that prove its power?

Let’s start with the biological. When you smile the brain releases mood-enhancing hormones like endorphins. Your smile also releases serotonin which serves as an anti-depressant. Charles Darwin further discusses this in his “Facial Feedback Response Theory,” showing that not only do we smile because we feel good, but that proactively smiling can actually make us feel good. Studies utilizing MRI technology show that the brain areas focused on happiness are stimulated when we smile. And child development experts tell us that even a young baby will smile in response to hearing a human voice.

On to anthropology. Is there a more universal language than a smile?  Scientists have proven that smiles are understood and hold the same meaning across many cultures. My prior jobs took me on many travels across the world. I’d always start my encounters with a smile, even if I wasn’t sure the other person spoke my language (alas, I do not speak another language myself – please learn one while you’re here at UMassD!!). I firmly believe this made my interactions more pleasant. It set the tone with a non-verbal gesture that everyone always understood to be positive and friendly.

There are psychological implications too. A recent Penn State study proved that smiling makes a person appear to be competent, courteous and likeable by others. Another study suggests that when we see a person smiling, we actually feel rewarded, as seeing the smile activates the area in the brain that is responsible for this “reward” sensation. Plus, when we see a smile, we typically smile back as our brains are wired that way. So the reward of a smile is multiplied, because now both people are smiling and releasing those mood-enhancing chemicals, putting both in a good mood.

Smiling is abundant in literature.   Mark Twain stated, “Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.” William Shakespeare advised, “A smile cures the wounding of a frown.” And George Eliot tells us, “Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles. What do we live for if not to make the world less difficult for each other?”

Perhaps it is this last quotation that sums it up so well. You are about to embark on an amazing journey. Your classmates, roommates and teammates are embarking on it, too. To some extent, even seasoned professors and staff are also setting sail on a new adventure, because they have never journeyed with you before. Will you all encounter some difficulties? Probably. But why not make the world less difficult for yourself and others? Greet that new roommate with a smile, the folks at the lunch counter, each professor, the person who sits next to you, the cashier at the bookstore, your oldest friend, your newest friend, and perhaps most importantly, yourself. Get up each morning and release those endorphins when you look in the mirror. You are awesome and you are going to do great things here! 

To end with another favorite quote, Mother Theresa tells us, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” I hope you experience all good things here at UMass Dartmouth, and that you are the catalyst for the good that others experience as well, through your smile and through the enormous positive impact you will have on others. Your smile could be just what someone really needs today. Embrace that positive power! I wish you all the best, and hope you have many reasons to smile on this amazing journey.