By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Your face is probably blank as you read this. So just as an experiment, right now, smile. Now, even if your smile is forced, goofy, or pasted on, hold that smile for at least 20 seconds or so. If you're like most, you should feel your mood lifting almost immediately. That is exactly what researchers find as well: Smiling causes a reduction in stress and a momentary feeling of genuine happiness (Kraft & Pressman, 2011). Even when research participants don't know they are "smiling," but are instead simply asked to hold a chopstick in their mouths, they get the same benefits. The reason reflects the two-way nature of the mind-body connection: Our expressions are not simply the outward reflection of an internal state, but instead help to mediate and determine those inward feelings. The implication is simple but profound: If you're feeling stressed, worried, sad, or angry, go ahead and trick your mind by forcing a smile. "Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile," Thích Nhất Hạnh says, "but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy."
That is the broad message, at least, from the perspective of spiritual and practical psychology, but does that kind of happy-talk apply in litigation? After all, at the heart of every civil case, there is a physical tragedy, or a perceived theft or violation of trust. When either working up or presenting those kinds of stories, does it still make sense to smile? Yes! Appropriately, but yes. Not only do smiles and a good sense of humor allow litigators and witnesses to relieve the tension, but they also play an important role in determining credibility, as shown by some new research. Appropriate smiles can in some cases make you appear more intelligent and believable, while helping you feel better to boot. This post takes a quick look at the research, as well as the implications before and during trial.