What would you say if I told you there was a quick, simple and crazy effective way to make an excellent first impression on everyone you meet, and make yourself feel happier in the process?
You’d probably say something like “That sounds like some infomercial bullshit. Hard pass.”
And, given how hyperbolic that question was, I wouldn’t blame you.
But my unintended hucksterism notwithstanding, I bet you’d be a little intrigued, too—and understandably so. After all, everybody wants to make a good first impression when meeting new people.
Fortunately, there really is a way to make both your potential conversation partners and yourself feel better from the get-go, and it sounds so damn simple that you’d probably never guess how deeply rooted it is in science.
So, how do you help yourself make a great first impression?
You smile. (Told you it was simple.)
If you’ve read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People, you’ll know that Carnegie listed “SMILE!” as one of his six must-do edicts for socializing.
Smiling has a ton of common sense benefits, but science has also revealed some deeper reasons to grin that might not be as immediately clear.
The (Science-Backed!) Benefits of Smiling
How Your Smile Affects You
For instance, smiling releases endorphins – the same happy chemicals that are released after exercise or sex – that flood your body and make you feel happier, more positive and more optimistic.
But that’s not all! (There I go with the infomercial shit again. Sorry.) Smiling also reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, meaning each smile pulls double duty by simultaneously giving you more of the good stuff and cleaning out the bad.
Ron Gutman, founder and CEO of HealthTap, summarized smiling’s many benefits well in his irreverent and research-packed TEDx Talk:
“So whenever you want to look great and competent; reduce your stress; or improve your marriage; or feel as if you just had a whole stack of high quality chocolate – without incurring the caloric cost; or as if you found 25 grand in a pocket of an old jacket you haven’t worn for ages; or whenever you want to tap into a super power that will help you and everyone around you live a longer, healthier, happier life… smile.”
How Your Smile Affects Them
The above self-empowering benefits notwithstanding, your smile’s real strength is not in the way it affects you, but those around you.
The reason it’s such a perfect secret weapon for meeting new people is that it unconsciously endears you to them in a lot of ways they’re probably not even aware of, including:
- Your smile immediately signals to the brains of other people that you’re approachable, friendly and trustworthy. (Why do you think politicians are always grinning?)
- Smiling makes you not just look, but also sound friendlier, meaning you’re not just providing a visual cue, but also an audible one.
- Your smile puts other people in a positive mood, making them more receptive to you and whatever you have to say.
- Smiling is contagious. When you smile, those around you smile, which causes a flood of endorphins and happy chemicals not just in your brain, but in theirs. They, in turn, associate this flood of happiness with you.
- That positivity goes both ways. When you smile, you cause someone else to smile. When you then see them smile, you’ll want to keep smiling. So your initial smile creates a feedback loop that perpetually makes you and everyone you encounter feel better.
So, yeah, smiling’s pretty awesome.
Particularly if the intended target of your smile happens to be a woman.
It All Starts with the Smile
As it turns out, for all of the focus we put on our fitness, hair, clothes and everything else that goes into presenting yourself well, what women notice most is your smile.
“Your eyebrows are one of the first things we notice,” writes Huffington Post Fashion and Beauty editor Dana Oliver, before clarifying what they actually notice first: “besides that amazing smile, of course,”
Now, I’ve never met Dana Oliver, and you probably haven’t either. So in case her opinion isn’t enough to get you grinning, rest assured: you don’t need to take her word for it.
In 2015 Thought Catalog writer Mike Zacchio surveyed 10 women aged 18 to 54 and asked them to name one physical and one non-physical trait they find most attractive in men.
Of the 10 women surveyed, seven said a smile is the one physical trait they find most attractive.
The Scientific Attraction of the Smile
Still not convinced? Fair enough. Mike’s story is illuminating, but anecdotal – 10 women, after all, is a pretty small sample size.
But a 2013 study published in the journal Cognition and Emotion lends a lot more credibility to the claim. In that study, researchers showed people two identical faces, but used computer software to manipulate one so that it looked happier. Participants were then asked to choose the more attractive of the two faces.
“The evaluation of attractiveness is strongly influenced by the intensity of a smile expressed on a face,” the researchers concluded.
How strongly? So much so that even those of us who aren’t exactly candidates for Sexiest Man Alive could use a smile to turn our luck around.
“A happy facial expression could even compensate for relative unattractiveness,” the study’s authors say.
This is great news, for multiple reasons. First and foremost, of all the things you can do to make yourself look and feel better, there’s absolutely nothing as easy as simply smiling.
Second, this research actually contradicts what was previously believed.
“Both men and women increased their attractiveness by smiling,” as the psychology blog ReflectD points out, “however, men benefited more from a happy smile more than women, which contradicts earlier findings.”
As men, we’re often tempted to think we need to look brooding or edgy in order to look handsome. But this study reminds us that while we may find brooding edginess cool, women just want us to crack a smile every now and then.
A Ninja Trick to Supercharge Your Smile
By now I hope you’re convinced of the many benefits of smiling. But instead of rushing out to start grinning indiscriminately, try this little ninja smiling trick I learned a few years ago that can really help you amplify your smile’s power.
I first read about this maneuver in the Leil Lowndes book How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships, which is packed with great suggestions for becoming more personable.
One of Lowndes’ 92 little tricks is what she calls “The Flooding Smile.”
The idea is that when you first make eye contact with someone, you don’t smile right away. Instead, you look at their face for a second or two – not much longer – and pause.
Then, you smile a wide, beaming smile that implies that you don’t smile for just anyone, but in this particular case with this particular person, you’re truly, genuinely happy to make their acquaintance.
I’ve personally tried this many times and found that it definitely works. If you look closely at their eyes as your smile floods your face, you can practically see its effect register in their minds.
One word of warning, though:
This one takes some practice.
Once you get used to smiling as a means of endearing yourself to people, your instinct will be to slap on a smile immediately after (or maybe even before) you shake hands or meet a new person.
This is totally natural, so just be aware that delaying your reaction, however briefly, will feel a bit unnatural at first. Oh, and you’ll also want to make sure you get the timing down. Wait too long and it’ll seem like you’re just staring at the person; too quick and the effect of smiling just for them won’t quite resonate.
But it’s worth practicing – and perfecting – because this is an extremely powerful way to make a magnetic first impression, and look like someone worth talking to.
Bringing it All Together
So there you have it. Smiling makes you feel happier and less stressed. It makes people who see you smile feel happier and puts them in a better mood, while also making them think you’re friendly and approachable.
And if you happen to be smiling at a woman, she’ll not only notice your smile first and foremost, but she’ll likely find you more attractive than if she saw you with a scowl on your face.
And here you thought a smile was just a frown turned upside down.
Put it into Practice:
Smile whenever you want to make a powerful first impression, and use “The Flooding Smile” when you really want to lay on the charm.
And if you’re not sure what to say once your smile has opened the door to conversation, use the form below to sign up for my free email series and learn how to start great small talk, create a connection, avoid awkward pauses and a lot more.
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Irreverent Gent founder Dave Bowden is a men’s style specialist, an Amazon bestselling author, an unrepentant introvert, a (patient, if long-suffering) Toronto sports fan and the husband of a wonderful (and fortunately much more patient) wife.