"I just like to smile, smiling's my favorite." - Buddy the Elf

As the simple-minded, socially awkward Buddy in the movie "Elf," Will Ferrell's character exudes cheerfulness. Sure, he thinks he's an elf, but Buddy's ever-positive attitude proves endearing to those around him.

Smiling is one of the simplest things we can do, but its effects can be life changing. Why is smiling so beneficial?

Smiling helps us be better parents

In the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie, psychologist James V. McConnell says, "People who smile tend to manage, teach and sell more effectively, and to raise happier children. There's far more information in a smile than a frown. That's why encouragement is a much more effective teaching device than punishment."

Kids need plenty of positive reinforcement to strengthen their confidence and emotional health. This isn't to say that discipline and punishment should take a backseat. For example, it's hard to grin when your 3-year-old butchers her hair or your 16-year-old ignores his curfew. But a genuine smile and hug following the discipline reassures our kids that we love them and accept them despite their mistakes.

Children crave our attention and approval. Smiling at our kids is a simple way to help fulfill those needs. When you greet your toddler or teenager with a cheerful countenance, they can sense that you love them and enjoy them.

Smiling can cheer you up

It's interesting that the act of smiling actually lightens your heart. Carnegie suggests, "You don't feel like smiling? Then what? Two things. First, force yourself to smile. If you are alone, force yourself to whistle or hum a tune or sing. Act as if you were already happy and that will tend to make you happy ... Everybody in the world is seeking happiness - and there is one sure way to find it. That is by controlling your thoughts. Happiness doesn't depend on outward conditions. It depends on inner conditions."

A smile takes such a minimal effort. When your day is going terribly, why not try to improve your mood with a smile? It can't hurt.

Smiling opens doors

Intentionally or not, we all make snap judgments about the people around us. Who would you feel more drawn to, a sour face or a grinning one? First impressions count.

Several years ago, I had a neighbor who constantly smiled. She was a young mom, probably just as harried and stressed as most young moms, and her husband was frequently out of town. But I never saw her without a smile. She was beautiful and probably would have been just as pretty without her ear-splitting grin. But everyone was drawn to her and enjoyed her company, I think, because of her incessant cheerfulness.

"Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, 'I like you,'" says Carnegie. A sincere smile and "hello" can open the door to a new friendship. Smiling helps me feel a little more outgoing. It also alleviates tension or dispels an awkward moment.

A smile is contagious. It relays kindness, warmth, humor, appreciation or love, and it helps strengthen connections with those around us.

Share your smile with your children. Smile to adjust your attitude. Greet others with a smile, and see how it breaks barriers and opens doors.

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