One of the benefits of emotional intelligence is feeling good about ourselves, and I wanted here to mention one way of helping others to do the same and be emotionally intelligent too: smiling.

We know intuitively that smiling is contagious. When we engage with someone and are smiling, their brain coaxes them to return the favour. The research also tells us that if we’re smiling at someone, it’s difficult for them not to smile back. If they don’t, they’re making a conscious effort not to.

The part of our brain that is responsible for the facial expression of smiling when we’re happy, of returning a smile, is in the cingulate cortex, an unconscious automatic response area. In one study, subjects were shown pictures of several emotions: joy; anger; fear and surprise. When the picture of someone smiling was presented, the researchers asked the subjects to frown. However, they found that the subjects’ imitated what they saw instead. It took conscious effort to turn the smile upside-down.

When we engage with and smile at someone, we’re creating a mutually beneficial relationship that allows both of us to release feel-good chemicals in our brains and activate reward centres – dopamine, endorphins, serotonin – that make us more attractive to be around and engage with, and promote our wellbeing. Result!

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