Gretchen over at The Happiness Project had a lovely and thoughtful post yesterday called smile, smile, smile. She ended the post by saying: 'And apart from its effect on my dealings with other people, smiling makes me feel happier. Actions trigger feelings, so by going through the motions of feeling happier, I change my mood. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”'
There are some very important ideas in this post, and in fact, they are backed by some rigorous research. The first is that, as Gretchen implies, if others see you smiling and experience you as warm, they are more likely to believe you are a nice person and more likely to comply with your requests. That is an old finding, and there are interesting studies of tipping that show, as you would expect, a friendly waiter or waitress hauls in bigger tips. So if you want to signal to others that you aren't an asshole, a little smiling and warmth will go a long way. My colleague Anat Rafaeli and I did a bit of research and writing on the expression of emotion in organizational life in the 1980s and 1990s, and this theme can be found throughout the behavioral sciences. We wrote a couple papers reviewing the literature that are especially relevant:
Rafaeli & Sutton (1989) The expression of emotion in organizational life. In L.L. Cummings & B.M. Staw (Eds.), Research in Organizational Behavior, Vol. 11: 1-42.
Rafaeli & Sutton (1987) Expression of emotion as part of the work role. Academy
Gretchen's other point is the especially interesting one: her claim that smiling makes her feel happy. This may sound like one of those wacky theories, but it turns out that a series of rigoruous studies by Robert Zajonc and his colleagues show that, in fact, smiling brings about physiological changes that make you feel happy, and frowning bring about changes that can make you feel sad and grumpy. The upshot of all this, from an asshole management standpoint, is that if you feel like an asshole, smile or (as I explain below) start saying the letter "e" over and over again. And if other people are getting nasty, try to get them to smile or say the letter "e," and to stop frowning and saying the letter U.
I know it sounds crazy, but Zajonc is one of the most creative and influential psychologists in history. Here is the research as I summarized it in Weird Ideas That Work.
‘“There is now compelling evidence that smiling causes people to feel happy. Requiring people to smile, no matter how they really feel at first, results in increased positive feelings; frowning conversely decreases positive feelings. Robert Zajonc and his colleagues show that smiling leads to physiological changes in the brain that cool the blood, which in turn makes people feel happy. [A series of experiments] show that positive emotion and cooler facial temperatures result when people saying the letter “e” or the sound “ah” over and over again, apparently because making these sounds requires a smile-like expression. These [experiments] also show that negative emotion (and hotter facial temperatures) result from repeating sounds like the letter O or the German vowel ü, apparently because making these sounds require a frown-like expression to pronounce. This effect was found to be equally strong in both German and American research subjects. These researchers also found direct effects of temperature on emotion, demonstrating that people who have had cold air blown up their noses are happier than those who have had hot air blown up their noses. Hundreds of other studies show that hot temperatures are a powerful and reliable cause of foul moods and interpersonal conflict (especially aggression and violence).
So, if you want to be really weird, try increasing happiness (and thus creativity) by having your people say “ah, ah, ah,” “e, e ,e, e,” or perhaps saying “cheese” over and over again, blowing cold air up their noses, or just keeping the buildings cold where creative people work. Or as Jane Dutton at The University of Michigan told me after she heard Robert Zajonc talk about these ideas: “When I want to get in a good mood, I’ll just go home and stick my head in the refrigerator.”’
Here are key references for those of you who want to dig into this issue. Note that this research is published the very best peer reviewed journals in psychology – and of course Science is an equally serious publication that reaches a wider audience.
Anderson, C.A. “Temperature and Aggression: Ubiquitous
Effects of Heat on the Occurrence of Human Violence”, Psychological Bulletin
106 (1989): 74-96.
Baron, R., Human Aggression (New York: Plenum, 1977)
Griffitt, W., “Environmental Effects On Interpersonal Affective Behavior: Ambient-Effective Temperature And Attraction”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 15 (1970): 240-244.
Zajonc, R.B. “Emotion and Facial Efference: An Ignored Theory Reclaimed”, Science 228 (April 5, 1985): 15-21
Zajonc, R. B., S. T. Murphy, & M. Inglehart, “Feeling and Facial Efference: Implications of the Vascular Theory of Emotion” Psychological Review 96 (1989): 395-416.”
This research has some pretty weird implications for effective “asshole management.” A German study that followed from this research showed that people reported being in better moods when they put a pencil between their teeth (creating a smile-like expression) and they reported being worse moods when they put a pencil between their lips (creating a frown like gesture). The effects uncovered in these studies on mood are not huge, but they are consistent and statistically significant.
So, I am not sure I am joking or not, but next time you enter a den of assholes, you might use this research to “cool them out:” turn down the heat or crank up the air conditioning, give them cold drinks, show them funny movies, ask them to keep smiling, get them to say “e e e e e” over and over again, and pass out some pencils and ask them to bite down on them during the meeting. [I invite other equally weird ideas… in fact Zajonc tells me that putting those band-aid things on your nose as some athletes do might also facilitate positive emotion because it helps cool air get to the brain more efficiently, so you might have people put those things on).
Of course, if you act this weird, it may turn a group of uptight assholes against you -- but they are evidence-based practices!