Nat King Cole had a hit song in 1954 called Smile, written by Charlie Chaplin. The first verse goes like this"
"Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through for you.
Sentimental, perhaps, but the Harvard Business Review notes some research that may substantiate the feeling of the song. Last year HBR printed an interesting item summing up an article by Tara L. Kraft and Sarah D. Pressman of the University of Kansas titled, "Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expressions on the Stress Response" In Psychological Science, Kraft states, "Age old adages, such as 'grin and bear it', have suggested smiling to be not only an important non-verbal indicator of happiness, but also an accurate truism for promoting smiling as a panacea for life's stressful events."
That may be overstating it a bit. However, without going into the technical details of their study, Kraft and Pressman show that smiling during periods of tension and fear actually reduce the intensity of the body's stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy. Says Pressman, "The next time you are stuck in traffic or experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment. Not only will it help you 'grin and bear it' but it might actually help your heart health as well."
These researchers found the heart rates of people tested recovering from stress were 7% lower, if they gripped a pair of chopsticks between their teeth in such a way as to force themselves to smile. Dr. Amy Cuddy, Harvard social psychologist, has also spoken extensively about this phenomenon through her popular TED Talks.
So how do these pieces of obscure data speak to the businessman?
Well, for me just this. I can report that any entrepreneurial businessperson faces lots of rejection many, if not most, days. That's stressful. However, even though most of my initial conversations are by phone, I have often found that smiling and other affects of happiness and prosperity actually do keep my attitude and mien happy. For example, if I'm having a less than salutary week, I will sometimes break my morose feelings simply by dressing in my best suit and brightest tie for a day, even if my day is only conference calls and desk work where no one can see me. It sounds like a stupid sales trick, I know, and I hope it is not me simply succumbing to eccentricity in my dotage, but I've found such seemingly superficial changes can make for a better day. The wise people of Alcoholics Anonymous have had this piece of intuitive knowledge for many years. They call it "acting as if."
Selling, particularly, is innately stressful because it is full of rejection. And any business owner is constantly selling whether her activity involves the formal act of selling or not. She embodies a useful trope for her company with smiles. I always look for little inexpensive tricks to keep my personal brand compelling. "Smiling though my heart is breaking" may be a particularly useful one.
Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy." Thanks, Thich.