Do you want to know the secret to smiling more often? Of course you do! Smiling is the result of feeling happy, right? Not exactly. In fact, the secret to smiling more often is not a reaction to a feeling at all.

The Secret to Smiling More Often

The secret to smiling more often is…

Are you ready?

OK, here is the super amazing secret to smiling more often:

Smiling more often.

I’m giving this advice for free, so perhaps that is what it’s worth. But it’s true.

That really is it.

My smiling story

I used to be a grumpy person (OK, I still am to some extent). I scowled at people not because they failed at a project or showed up late. I scowled because anyone dared to interrupt me while I was thinking. Or because anyone dared to expect me to show up on time for a meeting. Or, for any reason whatsoever.

As I’ve mentioned before, I played competitive golf in college and professionally for a short time. I worked with a sports psychologist in college and we stumbled on something one day that really helped me in golf, in business, and in life. At the time it was quite the breakthrough for both of us.

We had been working intensely on positive visualization, but it wasn’t sticking with me. I would see the shot, see my success, but doubt would still creep into my mind. So I suggested something out of the blue and our eyes lit up.

The next time, as I stood behind the shot visualizing it, I smiled at the result.

I smiled.

That was it. Something so simple, and yet so effective.

Why it works

We found through testing that it did two things:

  1. It rewired my brain to see the result as a positive experience. I was pre-emptively reacting in the same way I would if I had actually hit a great shot (which in mind, I had).
  2. It released endorphins and to some extent, we believed dopamine into my system. The result was that I felt calmer and more positive about the shot.

At first, I had to force myself to do it. Over and over, I drilled it. Every single practice shot for months and months. Tens of thousands of times.

My smile was completely fake. I still felt the same doubts at first, but somehow I truly did feel calmer and more positive.

Despite being contrived and forced, it still worked. It was certainly better than not smiling at all.

Over time, it became a part of my pre-shot routine. Over time, I enjoyed smiling. And over time, it felt more natural and effective.

So, if you want to smile more, if you want to feel happier, and you want to have more influence on those around you (a smile goes a long way in that department), then force yourself to smile.

6 ways to get in the habit of smiling more:

  1. Smile the moment you wake up.
  2. Remind yourself in the morning that you are going to smile more today.
  3. Set reminders to smile. Use your phone calendar or work calendar as reminders.
  4. Create cues to smile. Smile at certain cues. When your hand hits the door to your house as you enter from work is a good time. Or when you enter the office. Or when you see a certain model of car. Pick your cues and then use them as reminders.
  5. Think happy thoughts. Our daughter, when she was about twenty months old, put it best: “Today, Aracelli chooses happy thoughts.” Want to be more positive? This can help.
  6. Smile at everyone you see today. And tomorrow. And the next day. Then keep it up.

It really is that simple. And it really is that effective. Start today.

Have you noticed positive effects from smiling more?

Download print-friendly PDF version of this post to share

43 thoughts on “The Secret to Smiling More Often

  1. Let's Grow Leaders says:

    …. and the wonderful side effect… people will smile back… more endorphins.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      BAM! More endorphins = More smiles = More endorphins = awesome!

  2. Jon Stolpe says:

    Great ideas here, Matt. I know a smile is contagious. We need people who are willing to start the smiling domino effect by smiling first.

  3. Joel Fortner says:

    Great post Matt. Yes I have experienced positive effects of smiling. Specifically it’s improved my relationships and attitude about things at times.

    1. Joe Lalonde says:

      Awesome Joel! Smiling around others has helped improve my relationships as well. It lets others know you’re not a grumpy grump.

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      So true Joel. By the way, I loved the HYTC interview!

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        as did I…you guys both rocked it! I’m fortunate to call you both friends! (we are friends…right???)

      2. Joel Fortner says:

        Of course!!!

      3. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        haha. good. Not sure I’d get such an affirmative answer from McWilliams 😉

      4. Matt McWilliams says:

        I think I’ve proved my answer 🙂

      5. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        Haha. Fair enough. My apologies.

      6. Joel Fortner says:

        Thanks man!

  4. Nancy Heidger Benavides says:

    A smile will also make you approachable. People will strike up a conversation with someone who smiles.
    A smile a great icebreaker if you are shy and in a group you of people you don’t know. Just smile and it is very likely that someone will start talking to you!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Amen Nancy.

      It really is one of the best conversation starters.

    2. Ken Porter says:

      I’ve found the same thing Nancy.

  5. Paige Gordon II says:

    One of the things I have done to remind myself to smile when I deal with people is constantly telling myself that I want the interaction someone has with me to be the best part of their day. When you’re trying to make sure that everyone has a better day because they got to talk to you, you end up reminding yourself to smile a LOT. And it works! The more you smile at other people, the more they smile back at you.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      That is a great reminder Paige. Keep it up!

  6. Zech Newman says:

    Great points Matt. In the restaurant business we even have employees and myself smile when answering the phone people can hear the smile though they can’t put there finger on it. Makes a much more enjoyable environment and customers feel that they where more connected with.

    1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      It’s amazing how such a simple thing like smiling translates into your words, inflection, body language etc.!!

      1. Matt McWilliams says:

        I had to remember my own advice today….and boy did it work!

      2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        bout time you listen to your own advice 😉

  7. Troy Stauffer says:

    I’m going to be the weird guy who asks weird questions.

    I’ve been reading “First, Break All the Rules” and it spends a great deal of time telling leaders “don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out” but instead focus on “drawing out what was left in.” With that fresh in my mind, I have to wonder if there might be readers of your blog who, as part of who they are and how they are built, aren’t made to go around smiling all day.

    I’m not advocating being a jerk to people. Respectful, kind, courteous, and even friendly attitudes in relationships will take you lightyears beyond the alternatives.

    But I know people who are great at what they do, and what they do, frankly, doesn’t require much in the way of smiling. Should their leader have them focus their energy on creating habits for smiling? Because it will create conversation opportunities or change the way they are viewed by others? Maybe if that is a goal for them, but I’m not sure that is a universal requirement for success at every level.

    I know you weren’t suggesting any of these things, I’m just here to, again, ask the weird questions. 🙂

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Love that book. I’ve read it and listened to it numerous times.

      I agree that you can’t teach a fish to live on dry land. So if you want a killer programmer who will literally never have to interact with other humans, don’t worry about it. But if that programmer comes to you and complains about not being able to get promoted because he is perceived as cold, then yes you should help him smile more or do whatever it takes.

      Same goes if someone walks in and says they want to be in sales.

      Keep asking the weird questions!

    2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      Great points Troy! I think this principle is more for your own benefit, rather than for communicating with others sake.
      Thanks for making me think 🙂

    3. Kirbie Earley says:

      I will provide you with my own personal feedback – I sat in a meeting 2 months ago where everyone was at 8-top round tables. You’re looking at someone. The person directly across from me had a scowl on his face the entire time he sat there. He never smiled. Even when he got up to speak (I didn’t know he was a speaker initially), he still scowled. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt – he has to present – maybe he is a ball of nerves.

      Here’s the problem with his scowl. It put me in a negative place as far as he was concerned. It devalued, to some extent, his message. It made him someone I did not want to approach for an introduction. He presented himself, with that look on his face, as someone who didn’t want to be where he was (and maybe he didn’t – neither did I) and didn’t want to be bothered.

      While not everyone is “cut out” to smile all of the time, I do think that when you are in an environment such as that, you have to think about the message you’re putting out there with your body language – which includes the look on your face.

      Something else to think about – I still remember him – not his face or his name, but the impression he left and if I do see him again, it will trigger negative reminders.

      1. I’m sure this person would get more positive feedback if he smiled more, i’m sure it would be a strategic choice if he managed to do so and i’m sure you would feel better when meeting him. At the same time i think it’s a good thing that people are different, i also think that you possibly could be more aware of your own reaction and not let him take all the responsibility for your own reaction. Some people need constant conformations or positive feedback in order to feel good. I’m not saying that you are one of those, your post just makes me think about such persons. That being said, i think this can be a good and helpful article, but i still think troy here has very valid points. There’s a tendency today, at least where i live, that the more outgoing and smiling candidates are chosen in job interviews, when less outgoing candidates might be more qualified (i’m speaking about professions where smiling isn’t really important) i think this is a bad tendency.

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        You call it a bad tendency. I call it “The way it’s been for since…forever.” 🙂

      3. Yes, of course, to a certain degree. The level of importance can still change. If I watch 30 years old video clips of politicians speaking on TV shows, it’s obvious that they had fewer PR advisors who told them about the importance of being outgoing, fun and punchy, than they have nowadays. (at least where I live) But again – I appreciated your article. In fact, I’m smiling right now.

      4. Matt McWilliams says:

        I used to be one of those advisors haha.


        Thanks for the comments!

  8. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    Man Matt, i love this post! I’m actually a naturally positive person. I love making people laugh and smile. But I still love your suggestions. I love THE idea of setting cues to remind you to smile!

    I’ve learned if you’re the person that is always smiling and making others smile, people like being around you!

    Great post.

  9. Joe Lalonde says:

    Not only have I received positive results personally by smiling more, it also helps socially. The more I smile around others, the more they want to stick around.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I’m sensing a theme here 🙂

  10. Kirbie Earley says:

    I try to smile at strangers in particular. You don’t know what kind of day someone might be having and a smile from someone they don’t know just might be the lift they need. I do struggle with many of the same things you do (except I never WAS good at golf) so I will certainly try to bring more smiles into my day. I do believe in thinking positively and I am working on making this 100% of my day, a challenge in my current workplace, so smiling more surely can’t hurt!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      It’s a challenge well worth the effort Kirbie. Keep it up!

  11. Colleen Friesen says:

    I make eye contact with as many people as I can, whether passing someone on the seawall or in the check-out at the grocery store. I just genuinely try to ‘see’ them, smile my biggest, toothiest smile and move on. The response is amazing, except… for when it’s not…

    There are always a few people that look at me like I’m a freaky stalker. Whatever. They can add it to their personal storyline about how the world is unsafe because there are crazy-smiling people attacking them. That’s their own story they’re validating, and, as sad as their story is, it is not about me.


    99% of the people send back lovely flashes of happy eyes and smiling faces. This, of course, makes me feel even happier. Proving once again, that whatever we do for anyone else – no matter how seemingly insignificant and small – comes right back at us in multiples of tens.

    If there’s no one around, I smile at myself in the mirror with my winningest, most-exuberant ten-year-old-self grin. I smile like I’ve just jumped off a rope swing, like I’ve just nailed a trampoline jump, even if the last time that happened was several decades ago.

    Thanks for this post. It’s nice to have company in this smiling journey.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      This is one of my favorite comments ever Colleen.

      You sound like someone that incredibly successful people want to be around. And who mopey, victim-thinking, the world is out to get me whiners hate but secretly envy.

      Keep it up!

      And thanks for sharing a little bit of your awesomeness here. Don’t be a stranger.

      1. Colleen Friesen says:

        Thanks Matt…I just hit the little ‘up’ arrow, not realizing it was the equivalent to ‘liking’ my own comment. Oops! I’m enjoying your site. Thanks for all the work you’ve put into this.

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        Haha. Well I clicked it on purpose 🙂

    2. Jojo TheTraveler (JoJo) says:

      Wow,this indeed is the best comment??,am so smiling at everything.I must say its true most people will smile back and then there are those that so coiled in their own worries that wont catch it even if you smile the widest.
      I practice dmiling with kids mostly and they sure return the smiles right away.Thanks for sharing.

  12. Another way to practice smiling is to turn on your web cam and have the window for it visible the entire time you are on the computer. That way it’s easy to double check that you are smiling and that it looks sincere. It will help you get in the habit of smiling more often and work out the muscles.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Wow! That might be one of the better ideas I’ve heard. I’m totally featuring this comment.

      Thanks for sharing!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      That is awesome Nathan. Glad you stopped by 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *