The Power of a Smile

I conduct a bi-weekly “experiment”. The laboratories where I conduct my analysis are at random locations. My favorite site is a street intersection, where I gather data as I sit behind the steering wheel of my car while traffic is stopped. The best results are obtained when I am in front, right at the intersection, there I can clearly see the drivers opposite and to the right and left of me, each of us poised ready to move forward as the signal changes in our favor. I envision this as one gigantic petri dish, where we humans are the collective specimen prepared for “observation”. As we sit in anticipation of the light changing from red to green, a broad smile spreads across my face and I deliberately make eye contact with each of the three drivers.

My hypothesis, in this application, is that a smile, coupled with direct gaze while people are in a “hold” position, will be host for an epidemic of positive facial expression. Quite honestly, I am hopeful that the data I collect at each sampling supports the theory that a smile is contagious, one spreading to another and to another and to another – from intersection, to lane change, to parking lot to store or office, school, library, home. To date, my copious lab notes tabulate mixed responses. The reactions fall into several categories, those drivers who:

  1. return my smile within seconds of eye contact

  2. adjust their posture, lean forward in an attempt to determine if we know one another, then return the smile

  3. briefly glance my way with genuine indifference

  4. scowl back rather than smile

My experimentation is still underway and it is too early to apply statistical analysis to determine frequencies within each category. However, undaunted, I continue in the fervent hope that the behavioral response in category #1 proliferates.

If ever you find yourself at a traffic intersection, waiting for the light to change, and see someone, with broad smile, cast a glance your way ...remember the purpose of the experiment and perhaps, you might also recall this simple verse:


Smiling is infectious; you catch it like the flu.

When someone smiled at me today, I started smiling too.

I passed around the corner and someone saw my grin.

When he smiled, I realized I’d passed it on to him.

I thought about that smile, then I realized its worth,

A single smile, just like mine, could travel round the earth.

So, if you feel a smile begin, don’t leave it undetected -

Let’s start an epidemic quick, and get the world infected!

- Author Anonymous